Mirabelli embodies interdisciplinary problem solving as assistant DA

2/19/2024 Taylor Parks

"[My problem-solving skills] are by far the most useful things I took from engineering." Dan Mirabelli (BSME 2016) says the work ethic he refined as a MechSE undergrad prepared him for the long hours and heavy workload that come with being an assistant district attorney in Manhattan.

Written by Taylor Parks

Dan MirabelliMechSE alumnus Dan Mirabelli (BSME 2016) uses his engineering training every day in a very interdisciplinary way: seeking justice. For the past two and a half years, Mirabelli has handled a wide variety of criminal cases as an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

“I mostly focus on street-level crimes and handle them from beginning to end,” said Mirabelli, whose cases have included attempted murder, burglary, petty theft, arson, shootings, and firearms trafficking. “It’s a really interesting job because you have a lot of responsibility and gain a lot of experience early in your career.”

The Chicagoland native’s interest in automotives initially drew him to engineering. “I visited U of I and it just felt right the second I was on campus,” he said. “I knew it was where I wanted to be.”

While at Illinois, Mirabelli interned at Senior Flexonics, Garrett Technology, and Cummins Allison. He also worked on the chassis sub-team for the Illini Hyperloop project for his senior design class and took a constitutional law class as an elective the same year.

“In engineering, you can explore different designs, but at some point, the math will show that X equals two and it can only be two,” he said. “With the law, one person can say X equals two and another can say X equals three, and there’s a good argument for both. I found that to be really interesting, and there was still that problem-solving aspect that I love about engineering.”

Mirabelli had found an outlet that satisfied his passions for writing, problem solving, and intellectual discussion. During his first year at the University of Virginia School of Law, he interned in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. “That’s when I knew I wanted to become a prosecutor,” he said, recalling that witnessing a murder trial in which the prosecutor was able to bring comfort to a grieving family left a deep impression.

Mirabelli in a graduation cap and gown in front of Grainger Library.
Mirabelli on his graduation day, 2016. 

The rigors of MechSE’s curriculum would prove valuable for Mirabelli’s future career. “[My problem-solving skills] are by far the most useful things I took from engineering,” he said, noting that the work ethic he refined while studying engineering prepared him well for the long hours and heavy workload that come with his current position.

“One thing I learned from my undergrad experience was that you can’t do things by yourself,” he said of his responsibility to make tough decisions when handling cases. “Not a day goes by that I don’t go into a coworker’s office to discuss a case.”

Indeed, the Manhattan office team support one another every day in achieving the same purpose. “At the end of the day, my duty is to come in and do the right thing. That’s the guiding principle of the job and that’s what guides every conversation I have with coworkers,” he said. “It’s an incredible place to work.”

When it comes to advice for current engineering students, Mirabelli stressed the importance of perseverance. “As a student, I sometimes felt like I was alone in struggling with a topic,” he said. “It’s good to remember that that’s a common experience for everybody. If you persevere, it will work out.”

He also emphasized the value in forging your own educational or career path, even if it looks different from the norm. “It would’ve been easier for me to have said I’m going to leave engineering for an easier major and I’ll still be a lawyer,” he reflected. “But I’m so grateful that I stuck with engineering because I’m much better equipped to do my current job.”

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This story was published February 19, 2024.