Alumni Blog: Maloney combines varied interests with engineering
“I have found that talking to people about your goals and career ambitions is really important,” said MechSE alumnus Dan Maloney.
When entering college, Maloney applied to one school for one thing: the University of Illinois, for forestry. As he progressed through his courses, he noticed he felt the most comfortable in classes like calculus. This realization led him to change majors five times before deciding on mechanical engineering.
Maloney completed his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in the fall of 1985. Though he received multiple job offers, none of them interested him. While discussing options with his undergraduate advisor, he learned of a research assistantship in the department’s Building Loads and System Thermodynamics (BLAST) Support Office. As much as he enjoyed his undergraduate studies, he had not planned to pursue a graduate degree. An opportunity presented itself, and Maloney decided to take advantage of it. Two weeks into the start of the spring semester in 1986 he began the assistantship, and started work toward his master’s degree. He completed that degree in 1987, with Professor Curt Pedersen as his research advisor.
After graduation, Maloney worked jointly for Argonne National Laboratory and the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The work allowed him to apply his background in mechanical engineering to a variety of projects, including dispersion modeling and chemical hazard analysis—areas that would become important to future career decisions.
For many years, Maloney expressed a desire to start his own business. In 1995, he established D&E Technical, Inc. (DETech) in order to pursue engineering and technology opportunities on a part-time basis. Six years later, in 2001, TRW Inc. approached Maloney with an opportunity to collaborate. They were looking to partner with someone in private industry to compete on a project that aligned with Maloney’s expertise. When the project to support the U.S. Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) was funded, Maloney was able to pursue DETech full-time.
Initially, DETech provided chemical hazard analysis expertise to the CSEPP project. Within a few years, Maloney was able to hire additional support staff and subject matter experts both to fill DETech’s expanding role in the CSEPP project, and to work on other projects. This allowed Maloney to grow a sustainable business that continues to thrive, and supports staff throughout the country.
Engineering and business development are just two interests that he pursued in his professional life; real estate is another. For the past 25 years Maloney invested in and renovated residential real estate. The opportunity to invest in a larger, commercial project came in 2016 with the purchase of the Cohen Building in downtown Urbana.
The noted architect Joseph Royer had designed the Cohen Building on commission from cigar manufacturer Nathan Cohen in 1907. It began as a cigar factory, a bank, a barber shop, and a soda shop. Throughout its history, the building has been home to a tavern, dentist offices, a flooring store, and most recently law offices. Maloney, who has a soft spot for historic buildings, dove into the project and its many challenges.
As part of building’s renovation, he installed solar panels on its roof. Interestingly, his connection with solar energy began in MechSE. As an undergraduate, his favorite class was Solar Energy Engineering taught by now Professor Emeritus Ty Newell. Additionally, while pursuing his graduate studies, Maloney was awarded a grant to participate in an international short course focused on solar energy. Through that program, he toured solar research facilities in the U.S.
Though he first applied his interest in solar energy professionally with the Cohen building, Maloney did not stop there. After learning more about financing for solar energy, he and his wife formed Illini Solar Leasing, a company whose goals are to invest in solar projects and educate people on opportunities in solar energy. Illini Solar Leasing’s first project was a partnership with Riggs Beer Company in Urbana for installation of a 75 kW solar PV system. That system was installed and began operation in 2017.
“My engineering background has allowed me do many things,” Maloney said. “By taking the problem-solving skills that I gained as a student, I have been able to create successful businesses in areas of interest to me.”
For MechSE students:
“The skills learned through a degree in engineering will allow you to do a lot of things. If you cannot see the exact path, don’t worry. Grasp opportunities when they present themselves.”
“Gather a wide range of experiences, and get involved with different things. Keep your mind open to all the opportunities and possibilities as an engineer. They are limitless.”
To those interested in starting a business:
“Discuss your business ideas with a wide range of people whom you trust, individuals who can act as your advisors. By articulating your ideas, goals, and interests you are able to focus and refine what is important to you. These advisors can provide critical feedback, and can become advocates to help your ideas become a reality.”