Scholarship Stories: Michael Haughey
Speaking to MechSE undergrad Michael Haughey, you can’t help but smile. He lights up a room with his enthusiasm for being an engineering student. As he lists the registered student organizations he belongs to, it’s clear Haughey has found a home on the Illinois campus.
As a child growing up in Lemont, Illinois, the young Haughey watched his father go to work each day as an iron worker. The elder Haughey, who immigrated from Ireland as a young adult, would come home and share stories about the projects he and the engineers would collaborate on. Naturally curious and inventive, Haughey would stare in awe at the designs and pieces of work his father brought home.
“My dad and I have always had the same interest,” Haughey said. “The small stuff like bringing home blueprints from work contributed to my interest in engineering.”
As the family, including Haughey’s older brother and mother, talked shop, he learned about an engineer’s role in building and improving the world around him and his father’s esteem for the profession. At the time, Haughey didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up, but he did know he wanted to emulate his father—impacting his community for the better.
Like many students around the world, COVID-19 upended Haughey’s high school experience. As a teenager going through a global pandemic, his view of relationships was turned upside down. He went from everyday access to his friends and family to finding new ways to communicate and interact with his community.
As Haughey addressed his own feelings brought on by the pandemic, he thought about older people in his community, isolated in their local nursing home, who were likely also dealing with similar feelings of isolation. An idea was born to link these two worlds. Haughey set up a program in his hometown to connect senior citizens and high schoolers via Zoom. He saw the problem around him and found a way to fix it. His engineering mindset kicked in.
“I knew how lonely it was for people in my high school,” Haughey said. “I couldn’t imagine being a resident in a nursing home and not able to have visitors.”
Through a challenging high school experience, Haughey knew his future career needed to be centered on helping those around him. With the influence of his father’s stories and his own interest in problem-solving, Haughey felt engineering would be a great fit.
In 2021, Haughey was admitted to Illinois in the Engineering Undeclared program. Nervous about the social and academic challenges of college but feeling supported by the university, he dove into classes that taught him design, allowing him to build a new network with his peers.
Just as he saw a need in high school, Haughey would again find a way to contribute to the lives of others. Entering his sophomore year at Illinois, he took on a leadership role in Theta Tau, a professional coed engineering fraternity. As the Bernays chair, Haughey was responsible for the annual fundraiser to cover the organization’s dues and costs.
Knowing the importance of his early exposure to the sciences, he decided to split the money, half to his fraternity and half to benefit students going into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Haughey specifically found a Chicago-based non-profit that supports young girls interested in STEM, Girls 4 Science. Marrying his two interests, serving and engineering, Haughey and his organization provided over $1,700 to Girls 4 Science during the 2023 school year.
Just as Haughey has devised innovative ways to help those around him, he has also taken steps to grow and learn. Most people would shy away from admitting the characteristics they need to improve upon. Not Michael Haughey. To improve upon his interpersonal and public speaking skills, Haughey has become an engineering tour guide, continues his leadership role in his fraternity, and, this past summer, became an intern with an HVAC company in his hometown. The experience has enabled him to learn more about professional communication and mechanical engineering.
While Haughey is still discovering his engineering path, he is certain he wants his future work to impact the world positively. He looks forward to coming home and talking shop with his dad, recounting all the projects he’s working on and finding ways to build their local community further.