Helping Engineering Students Achieve Success

Alum Mike Coffey supports resources to aid engineering undergraduates

DAVIS, Calif.; Sept. 18, 2014–When he attended UC Davis in the early 1980s, Mike Coffey could have used something like the College of Engineering’s Leadership in Engineering Advancement Diversity and Retention (LEADR) Student Center.

Mike Coffey at LEADR Student Center

UC Davis engineering alum and AT&T executive Mike Coffey speaks with students at the LEADR Student Center

“I was the only one, in my family of five, who went to college,” he recalls. “I didn’t have any role models, who could explain what the college experience was like. I didn’t have a path to follow; I didn’t know what school to attend, or what degree to get. But I do remember having a great discussion with the UC Davis recruiters who came to my high school.”

Insightful advice from those recruiters and his father led him to consider engineering, and eventual enrollment at UC Davis. He adapted quickly, and not merely to life as an engineering major. “My roommate was an ag-econ major, so I tried an economics class, and I loved it. I wound up fulfilling my entire humanities requirement with econ classes, so I gained an appreciation for business on top of a great engineering education.”

Coffey well remembers those early feelings of indecision, and he wants to help ensure that today’s undergraduates can enjoy access to advantageous resources such as the LEADR Center. He and his wife Jody have presented the LEADR Student Center with its first major gift: a five-year endowment designed to further its mission to improve the retention of a diverse pool of undergraduate engineering majors.

Coffey is quick to cite the most significant takeaway from his UC Davis years: “The ability to solve problems. My engineering education taught me how to logically approach problems, sift through all the available information, find the key relevant data, and then solve the problem. That has been essential to my life ever since, whether in engineering, marketing, finance – even my personal life.”

A 30-year veteran with AT&T, Inc., Coffey recently was named president of In-flight Connectivity, based in Dallas. In this role he’ll oversee the establishment of an innovative air-to-ground network for airline passengers. Coffey also will return to UC Davis several times each year, to represent his company in terms of campus relations, executive support for sales and service, and recruiting. UC Davis is one of roughly 30 campuses honored by AT&T as a critical source of talent to support the company’s long term growth.

Each visit also will give him a chance to catch up with events at the LEADR Center.

“I still remember what it was like for me, upon arrival at UC Davis, and I know there are plenty of students trying to figure things out. The LEADR Student Center helps people succeed in the often challenging engineering major.

“I also support the center’s mission of retaining diverse students in the engineering majors. I feel very strongly that all people should have the opportunity to succeed in their careers. In making this gift, Jody and I hope to assist the LEADR Student Center in assuring that everybody has a chance to realize the type of career opportunities I’ve had.

“It’s worth every penny of that contribution.”

—By Derrick Bang