From the UConn Foundation's newsletter, Our Moment (May 2012)
From left: Assistant Dean Marty Wood,
Callie Gargano, Michael Gargano
The worksite accident that nearly took the life of Michael Gargano ’03 BSEE, also brought him to UConn and turned that life around in new, unexpected directions. Today he donates to support the University as a way of showing his vision for the future of engineering.
In 1999, while working on high voltage power lines, Gargano was nearly electrocuted and suffered serious burns over most of his body. Given last rites and in a coma for a month, he recovered to spend the following two months in the Connecticut Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital. A grueling recovery process involved having to learn to walk again and regain the use of his hands. Examining future career options for Gargano, his case manager suggested going to college, and particularly recommended UConn’s engineering programs.
“I was completely terrified,” Gargano says. “I actually asked him, ‘Are you insane?’ I was 37. I had not attended college. But with his pushing and support, I made the leap and decided to study electrical engineering.”
Throwing all of his focus into his education, Gargano graduated cum laude in three-and-a-half years, with a GPA of 3.54, and a ranking among the top ten percent of graduates in the School of Engineering. He credits the faculty and staff at both the West Hartford and Storrs campuses for supporting, guiding and inspiring him throughout the process.
“In the beginning, I had no idea what to do. How to register for classes, transfer credits, navigate the system. Many people, such as [Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education & Diversity] Marty Wood in the School of Engineering, went out of their way to help. I’m very lucky to have had him in my life,” Gargano says.
He found the academics—and working alongside far younger students in all of his classes—to be extremely challenging, but believes his devotion to his wife and young daughter combined with abundant life experience gave him the will to succeed.
“I honestly wanted to quit every single day. But what I brought with me from 20 years of working was a highly disciplined mindset that just could grind on problems until I got it. I believe that no matter what the obstacle, you just can’t quit; you need to do whatever it takes, especially for your family.”
Through his senior design project and the guidance of Dr. Rajeev Bansal, Professor and Head of the Electrical & Computer Engineering department and Dr. Steven Boggs, director of the Electrical Insulation Research Center, Gargano became connected with Northeast Utilities, which hired him after graduation. He is presently a project engineering manager in substation engineering for the utility company, and gives back to support the School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He sees tremendous potential in the growth of his field.
“It’s estimated that about 40 percent of the nation’s power systems engineers are eligible for retirement in the near future,” he says. “Between that fact, and the transmission congestion that we have, and the reality that electrical power has become very high-tech, there is tremendous need for electrical engineers, now and in the future. I would love for UConn to have a really good power program, and if my private support can help, that’s what I want to do.”
Recently visiting the Storrs campus with his daughter Callie, who hopes to attend UConn herself in four years to major in accounting, Gargano reflected back on his time at the University.
“Everyone here at UConn always made time for me; especially all of the professors in the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department. The dedication to the students and depth of knowledge in the ECE department is incredible. I had a great experience at UConn and sometimes I actually miss being a student here. There’s no question in my mind that there is no way I’d be where I am today without Marty Wood, Rajeev Bansal, Steve Boggs, and everyone else at UConn. I received a top-flight hands-on education here that allows me to have a very happy, challenging career as a professional engineer.”