MAE alumnus finds multiple ways to give back
Over 60 years after graduating, Mike Pedicini continues to use the engineering principles he learned at Mizzou.
Pedicini graduated Mizzou with his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1951 and received his master’s degree a year later. After a stint in the Army and a successful engineering career, he volunteers his time tutoring local high school students in math and mentors a team of middle school students who participate in the Future City competition.
Participants in the competition design a “city of tomorrow” from the ground-up and build a model with recycled materials. This past year, the team he works with took first place in Ohio and went on to compete in Washington, D.C.
“I’m really proud of them,” Pedicini said. “This is a way to get kids interested in engineering. You’d be amazed how many people never even consider that option.”
Volunteering is important for engineers, Pedicini said, even those in college.
“They need to participate in their local community,” he said.
In addition to his volunteer work, Pedicini also works in his machine shop and builds operational model steam locomotives that are one-eighth the size of originals.
Before retiring, Pedicini worked for Procter and Gamble (P&G) for 33 years, recruited right out of the military. He expected to go to Korea, but the armistice was signed while he was in basic training. Instead, he spent two years in Aberdeen, Md., at the Ballistics Research Laboratory there.
Pedicini and a group of other military engineers invited companies to come on base three nights a week. At that time, companies wanted trained engineers who wouldn’t be drafted. Because his time in the military was coming to an end, Pedicini wanted to get some experience interviewing for a job. He decided to practice with the P&G representatives that came to meet with the military engineers.
“I thought, ‘I’m sure they won’t need engineers,’” Pedicini said. “If I hadn’t had a desire to get some practice interviewing I never would’ve gotten started at P&G. Life works in funny ways sometimes.”
He first worked on designing packing lines for Zest bar soap and then moved on to liquid detergent packaging just as the company decided to switch from cans to plastic containers. After that, he served as the head of recruiting for the engineering division. At the time, P&G didn’t recruit from his alma mater.
“That was the first time the engineering division — at my insistence — started going to Mizzou,” Pedicini said.
While working at P&G, Pedicini supported the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering by contributing $3,000 a year with matching funds from his employer. He established the Mike Pedicini Scholarship for mechanical engineering students and supported the creation of the department’s computing lab.
Bob Tzou, a professor and chairman of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, said the computer lab has enhanced the ability of the department to incorporate open-ended design problems in the curriculum.
“Solving open-ended problems with multiple solutions requires a designated lab that not only provides students with constant access but also the modern computational tools and software,” Tzou said. “Mr. Pedicini’s generous support has made it possible to equip the lab with more computers and modern computational tools, so that the students can have wider access and better tools to tackle complicated design projects.”
Tzou said the incorporation of these problems throughout the undergraduate program earned MAE the nomination for the ASME Innovative Curriculum Award in 2003.
Pedicini is also a founding member of mechanical engineering’s Industrial Advisory Council (IAC) and has judged student capstone projects. Tzou commended Pedicini’s work with students.
“I have witnessed his leading students apply critical thinking during the senior capstone design evaluations,” Tzou said. “He always hides very complicated engineering principles behind simple examples, demanding students come up with simple answers to complicated problems.”
Pedicini said he enjoyed judging the capstones, although he hasn’t been able to do so for a few years.
“We give them what I call engineering wisdom,” Pedicini said. “The knowledge you gain at Mizzou will only be useful as long as you keep it current.”
While the technology used in the classroom has changed drastically since he was a student, Pedicini said the principles are still the same; the most important thing is to keep learning.
Pedicini retired as the associate director of P&G’s design department, a promotion earned after leading two new plant design and construction projects for Pampers under budget and ahead of schedule. He managed to recreate the success of a Cape Girardeau, Mo., plant construction project with a plant built in Modesto, Calif.
“I wanted to prove that the Cape-G plant wasn’t a fluke,” he said.
Pedicini said he changed the culture in P&G design from a place where success was measured by how soon you could get transferred out of the department. One method he used was redesigning the bonus and rating system so that subordinates rated their superiors.
“I changed the whole culture,” Pedicini said. “That system has been widely copied in many industries today.”