Hilgendorf, Worth celebrate 25 years with MSE

This past fall two staff members - Renee Hilgendorf, graduate program advisor, and Kevin Worth, senior IT administrator, marked 25 years with the department.
Hilgendorf, Worth celebrate 25 years with MSE

Renee Hilgendorf, graduate program advisor, and Kevin Worth, senior IT administrator

In the Fall of 1996, both Renee Hilgendorf and Kevin Worth (BSE '96) joined the MSE staff. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of their hiring, we asked them both to reflect back and share some of the highlights of the past 25 years.


Renee Hilgendorf – Graduate Program Advisor

How did you come to work at MSE? I began my U-M career in the Rackham Fellowships office, working there 8 years before joining MSE in 1996. When I first started my office was located in the area on the 2nd floor of Dow that is now John Kieffer’s lab. I shared the suite with a couple other staff (Kay and Judy, for those who remember them) and Prof. Bill Hosford, before moving upstairs to my current office. Prof. Hosford’s Golden Retriever, Junior, would sit directly under my chair when he would bring him in.  

What was your work life like when you first started? It was a bit different then. Email was not a primary form of communication, so I had lots of paper forms to deal with that needed real signatures, which required face-to-face conversations, etc. If I needed to talk with a faculty or student, I would visit their office rather than emailing. I can’t imagine ever working remotely back then. I also recall early on attending a workshop about a new information system where documents and information could be shared over the internet, called the “World Wide Web.” It seemed like a strange concept. Now I don’t know how we functioned and survived without it!  

What’s one of your most memorable moments? One winter morning right after the holiday break a student showed up at my office to pick up the form to take to his prelim exam that was scheduled for that morning. He was already dressed in his presentation clothes and his coat was tattered and ripped. He casually mentioned that he was hit by a car while riding his bike to campus. He said he thought he was okay and wanted to still hold his exam. When I checked in on him while he was setting up, though, it was clear to me that he was definitely not okay. He was beginning to get a headache and mixing up his words. I convinced him to get checked out at the hospital and drove him straight there. It turned out that he did indeed have a concussion, but because he was wearing a helmet that his mother had just given him for Christmas, the story has a happy ending. He was eventually rescheduled and passed his prelim after he had recovered.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?  I would say it’s getting to know the students on a personal level and helping them navigate the sometimes-complicated graduate school experience. Its rewarding when I can help ease their mind so they can focus on their classes and research. I have been lucky to work with such a diverse group of students from all over the world.   


Kevin Worth – Senior IT Administrator (and MSE undergraduate alum)

As a student, what drew you to MSE? During my freshman year, my brother Brian was finishing up his Ph.D. under Wayne Jones and John Allison.  I figured I better take MSE 150 (a freshman introductory course offered at the time) while I still had free tutoring. The first day of class Professor Hosford walked in wearing a metal bow tie.  He was very passionate about MSE, and it was contagious.  I was intrigued that changes at the microstructure level could change material properties.

How did you come to join the MSE staff? As an undergrad I worked in the MSE/ChE mail room. My brother introduced me to John Mansfield and I started working as a lab assistant in EMAL (now (MC)2). The Internet was just starting, and I made the initial websites for EMAL and the MSE department.  When I graduated, the longtime MSE facilities engineer, who had also been doing basic IT duties, retired and the department created a full-time IT position. I was hired in based on my experience in EMAL as an undergrad.

How has the department changed? Only a few faculty remain from when I was hired.  It has become more diverse. There are about 50% more faculty and the size of the staff has doubled. It was all male and primarily metals-focused (particularly in the undergrad curriculum). The undergraduate program has significantly more resources now. When I was an undergrad, the equipment was often hand-me-down from a research lab, or a barebones version. The Van Vlack Lab now gets new/additional equipment annually.

How does being an MSE major help in your job? It integrated me into the department from the beginning.  Oftentimes the IT department is completely separate from the rest of the operation. Since I can speak the language, I can understand problems and goals better than a non-MSE major.

What have been some of your more memorable moments? The transition from student to staff was personally weird.  On one hand I was comfortable in the environment - I had already spent a bunch of time in Dow and still had friends that were undergrads – but as a staff member I was now expected to refer to professors by their first name, which I struggled with internally.

Early on I visited Professor Emeritus Van Vlack in his home in Kalamazoo to set up a computer for him and instruct him how to get on the internet. He was incredibly nice and shared memories of his time in the department.

For a few years, I taught sections of the junior lab class and really enjoyed working with the students.

One funny moment that made me look like I had superpowers happened when the building unexpectedly lost power. I jokingly clapped my hands twice and the power immediately turned on! Everyone looked at me in disbelief. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job? I enjoy working alongside cutting-edge research at the best university in the country, and value the friendships I’ve formed over the years with my coworkers.

Helping people when they have a really frustrating problem gives me great satisfaction….but I also like the problems that solve themselves right as I show up!