Alumni Awards

By Sarah Williams

Giving back. Serving others. Helping create the future.

Six alumni and friends will be recognized by the Michigan Technological University Alumni Board of Directors at its annual Alumni Reunion Dinner and Awards Ceremony on Friday, August 3. Here are their stories:

Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Captain Amanda Nerg
 Captain Amanda (Taylor) Nerg

Captain Amanda (Taylor) Nerg '10, aims to "be a guiding force in creating a better future for those who come after us." An officer in the US Air Force, Nerg received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Michigan Tech. In 2014, she earned her MBA at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Nerg says the training she received at Michigan Tech prepared her for her military career. "Michigan Tech instilled a passion for innovation and creative thinking. Every class, every extracurricular activity, provided the foundation for who I am today."

Her first assignment was as contract administrator at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, where she managed a $7.6 million architect-engineer services program. Nerg is now chief of the contracting office at Moron Air Base in Spain, where she supports multiple Air Force, Marine, and NATO missions.

Nerg has many fond memories from her days in Houghton—like meeting her husband, Steve Nerg '11, to whom she has been married for more than six years.

Outstanding Service Award

Sally Heidtke
Sally P. (Pearson) Heidtke

This year's Outstanding Service Award recipient, Sally P. (Pearson) Heidtke '81, finds great joy in service: "There is nothing more rewarding to me than the success and heartfelt thanks of someone I had a role in coaching."

Heidtke graduated from Michigan Tech with a BS in chemical engineering. After an impressive 25-year engineering career with Procter & Gamble, she worked as a human resources director and vice president for nine years. Presently, she is a body code practitioner, helping individuals resolve imbalances in their lives.

While at Tech, Heidtke was a member of Blue Key Honor Society and the Michigan Tech Student Foundation. She currently serves as a leader for Michigan Tech's Iron Mountain, Michigan, alumni chapter. She also served on the Alumni Board of Directors and is now a lifetime director. She helped plan and execute the University's first Women of Tech celebration event and volunteers for the Women in Engineering Learning Community on campus.

Heidtke returns to campus regularly to educate, influence, and inspire the women of Michigan Tech; she has helped raise almost $165,000 in scholarship funds to assist women students.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Susan Kiehl
Susan B. (Brechting) Kiehl

Susan B. (Brechting) Kiehl '83 says Michigan Tech taught her how to think. "An engineering education is incomplete if a student is not given the opportunity to take facts and figures and utilize that information to solve problems," she says. "Michigan Tech has always understood the necessity of linking learning to doing."

Kiehl began a distinguished career with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in 1984. She held various leadership roles, including vice president of earned value and performance excellence for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and director of F-35 international business development before retiring as the vice president of product development for the F-16/F-22 integrated fighter group.

Kiehl has a BS in metallurgical engineering from Michigan Tech and an MBA in engineering management from the University of Dallas. She remains active with Michigan Tech, serving as the first aerospace industry member on the College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board and as a member of the Presidential Council of Alumnae.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Melvin Visser
Melvin J. Visser

Melvin J. Visser embodies the qualities of a distinguished alumnus, leaving an impact wherever he goes. Inspired by the post-World War II slogan, "Better things for better living through chemistry," he graduated with his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1959.

After graduation, Visser developed the corticosteroid chemistry processes and antibiotic manufacturing at the Upjohn pharmaceutical company. He obtained several technology patents—one for soil vapor extraction, a widely used tool to clean up fuel and solvent spills. In retirement, Visser studied why banned chemicals remain at static levels in Lake Superior and other waters. His work culminated in the book Cold, Clear and Deadly: Unraveling a Toxic Legacy.

Visser and his wife have remained closely associated with Michigan Tech and the Copper Country, sponsoring Enterprise projects that improve the lives of elderly residents in the area. One of these projects—launched with Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly—earned a $25,000 prize from the Ford Foundation and a follow-up prize of $10,000.

Honorary Alumni Award

Igor Kliakhandler
Igor Kliakhandler 

Igor Kliakhandler, a former Michigan Tech mathematics faculty member, is the 2018 Honorary Alumni Award recipient.

Kliakhandler, born in Moscow, Russia, graduated from the Moscow Oil and Gas Institute in 1983 and started his PhD studies there in 1988. He emigrated with his family to Israel in 1991 and earned his PhD in applied mathematics from Tel Aviv University in 1997.

He held positions at Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Northwestern University before joining Michigan Tech in 2001. He was promoted to associate professor in 2005 and left the University in 2007 to work in the energy sector in Houston, Texas.

He now manages a group of companies that trade electric power across the US and is involved in several start-up projects. Kliakhandler remains fond of Michigan Tech and its math department. He generously provides an annual gift to host the Kliakhandler Conference, a University event that stimulates research activity in the mathematical sciences.

Humanitarian Award

Don Makay
Don T. Makay

Former Michigan Tech Army ROTC member Don T. Makay '99 graduated from Michigan Tech with a bachelor's in scientific and technical communication, an associate's degree in electrical engineering technology, and a commission from the United States Army.

As a combat officer, Makay served four tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. His experiences in Iraq inspired him to do more for the Iraqi people. In 2008, Makay started the nonprofit Iraqi Hope Foundation (IHP) with a mission to help entrepreneurial Iraqis launch businesses through start-up grants. The first recipient started a construction materials business.

In 2014, IHF temporarily closed its doors due to tumultuous times in Iraq. A year prior, Makay left active duty and transitioned to the New York Army National Guard where he serves as Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel of the 1-69 Infantry. Makay says he was born to be a soldier and urges Americans "to give to Iraq in any way they can"—something he plans to again pursue through IHF in the near future.

"Michigan Tech gave me an opportunity to practice the art of leadership. It not only surrounded me with great leaders, it included a sense of values and allowed me to hone and cultivate leadership traits at a young age."Don T. Makay

Join us for Alumni Reunion, August 2-4.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.