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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA student upholds record of excellence

Kyle Mittan
Kyle Mittan / Arizona Daily Wildcat Casey Mackin, a senior studying electrical and computer engineering, has been selected as one of the UA’s Pillars of Excellence. Mackin will also receive a scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation for his work in engineering.

Less than a year after winning the Astronaut Foundation Scholarship, a UA student has been selected to be part of the Pillars of Excellence display in the UofA Bookstore, marking a permanent reminder of his achievements at the university.

Each year, 12 students from the Honors College are nominated for the Pillars of Excellence award by faculty and staff, according to Karna Walter, assistant dean of the Honors College. Casey Mackin, an electrical and computer engineering senior, was selected in February because of his track record of excellence in research conveyed in his application and strong letters of reference from faculty, Walter said.

Nominees are awarded at a formal event each spring, hosted in partnership with the bookstore and the UA Office of the President. Once awarded, the bookstore displays photos of all the winners, including staff and faculty, in its lower level in the Student Union Memorial Center, according to Danielle Short, event coordinator for the bookstores. Once the photo is taken down, the winner’s name is added to a plaque on the wall.

Mackin said he had never heard of the Pillars of Excellence before he was awarded, but quickly realized its high esteem.

“It means that people think very highly of you and your accomplishments and … how you represent the University of Arizona,” Walter said. “You’re nominated by faculty and staff who know the students on campus so I would say it’s a prestigious honor because it really is among the very top students at the university.”

Walter described Mackin as a “very accomplished guy,” who is both polite and humble.

So humble, that a professor who has been working with Mackin for almost two years, was not even aware he had won the award.

“He’s pretty understated,” said Jonathan Sprinkle, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Sometimes in research, you find people that want to work in research because they want their name up in lights … and Casey, even though he is a genius, he sort of goes about his business and he lets the work speaks for himself.”

Currently, Mackin works with both Sprinkle and Roman Lysecky, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, in a research lab. Their project, Data Adaptable Reconfigurable Embedded Systems, is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, allowing Mackin to get paid for his research as an undergraduate student, according to Lysecky.

“He’s one of the … most talented undergraduate student(s) I’ve come across at the UA,” Lysecky said.

Although Pillars of Excellence was an honor, Mackin said the most exciting part of his college career was winning a scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, presented to him by former Skylab astronaut Ed Gibson in September 2012, as well as the research.

“That’s [the Astronaut Scholarship] probably the biggest event as an undergrad,” Mackin said. “Research is a big deal. I think I started research my sophomore year, and … I really caught on to that. I think that’s been like a huge part of my undergrad.”

Just recently, Mackin had his first research paper published regarding engineering computer-based systems, with another one to be published soon.

“He’s clearly cut out to do this kind of work … he’s interested in working on problems that nobody else has solved before,” Sprinkle said. “Just doing something because you can is one thing, but doing it because nobody’s done it before and you think it helps society for whatever reason is another important thing.”

To work with a student like Mackin is a privilege, Sprinkle said.

“It’s not that I make a student learn something, it’s that I give them an environment to learn in,” Sprinkle said. “And so it’s a privilege when you have a student that learns so readily … and see the success that they have is the most rewarding part.”

After graduation, Mackin said he plans to attend a summer research program at University of California Berkeley called the Summer Undergraduate Program in Engineering Research at Berkeley – Information Technology for Sustainability, before pursuing his doctorate.

He said his advice for other students would be to stay dedicated.

“If you’re really dedicated you’ll start early … get everything done early, and then typically things work out,” Mackin said.

There are a lot of professors and advisers around willing to help students, and a lot of people don’t use those resources as much as they could, Mackin added.

“He, in his humble way I think, really is a nice reflection of what is possible here at the UA,” Walter said. “He’s taken on some really great research opportunities that are really available to the undergraduates who are qualified who go after them … and that has really paid off for him.”

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