Fond memories lead young alumna to support CEE Modernization Plan
By Kristina Shidlauski
Growing up, Valerie Makri (BS 18) was a self-confessed nerd. A Champaign native and Uni High grad, Makri’s interests spanned both the arts and the sciences. She studied ballet. She sang and played piano. She learned languages. And as the daughter of scientists (her parents are both professors in the Department of Chemistry), she was no stranger to math competitions and basement science experiments. With parents on campus, a brother studying at Illinois, and interest in a number of engineering areas, Makri never doubted which college she would attend but only needed to decide what she would study.
“I guess you could say orange and blue was in my veins and I never even considered applying to another school,” Makri said. “I needed to narrow down my interest from aerospace, bioengineering and civil, but after taking two years of physics, attending WYSE [Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering] camp, and seeing the awesome displays in Crane Bay during Engineering Open House, becoming a structural engineer was the obvious choice for me.“
Her life at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was just as active as her previous school years, and as an Illinois student she was involved with the Women’s Glee Club, an a cappella group, the Hellenic-American Student Organization, dance, Engineering Open House and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student organization, eventually becoming president of that group.
It was during her junior year that Makri first took a class with Professor German Gurfinkel, who Makri calls an “outstanding instructor and truly wonderful person.” In spite of the early 8:00 a.m. start time, which she had strategically managed to avoid to that point, she appreciated his insight and wit, enough so that she signed up for another 8:00 a.m. (“Inconceivable!”) class he taught the following year. She recognized that he had an incredible amount of knowledge to share and enjoyed the intense but highly entertaining learning atmosphere, she said.
It was because of the memories of professors and classes, friends she made and the beautiful campus that Makri feels such a strong bond with Illinois. And it was her experiences with Gurfinkel that led her to make a gift to support the German Gurfinkel Collaboration Space in the new Smart Bridge being constructed as part of the CEE Modernization Plan.
“Professor Gurfinkel and I talked about all sorts of things, from engineering to opera and to languages, and I will cherish all our discussions and all the life lessons and knowledge learned from him,” Makri said. “His past and future students will surely love a space named after such a force to be reckoned with.”
As a young alumna just getting started in her professional career, Makri’s gift is modest compared to some of the large gifts supporting the Modernization. But she notes that small gifts add up and encourages other young alumni to consider their experiences when deciding whether to support the project.
“I would encourage them to think back to all the wonderful things the CEE department provided for us, like educational seminars (food!), trips to Chicago, résumé sessions and job opportunities, intelligent and friendly professors, instructors, TAs and staff, et cetera,” she said. “But then to also think back and consider some things we wanted while there – more computers in Newmark, a CEE library and so on. Small donations add up amongst people as well as over time, and every little bit counts!”
Makri now lives in Chicago, where she is a structural engineering for Burns & McDonnell. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her track record, she is an active participant in company initiatives and outside organizations, including the ASCE Chicago Younger Members Group. She just started work on her master’s degree in structural engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where – in her words – she continues to bleed orange and blue.
“Honestly, I could not be prouder to be a UIUC CEE alum,” Makri said. “I have had the most challenging and rewarding experiences, worked with the smartest and coolest professors, and made friends I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Read more about the plan to modernize CEE at modernize.cee.illinois.edu