Laura and Brian Mirtich share Gammage Scholarship and Arizona State University legacy

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November 20, 2019

Laura and Brian Mirtich have a truly unique connection.

Not only are they father and daughter, they’re also recipients of the prestigious Gammage Scholarship at Arizona State University.

The Gammage Scholarship, which honors the legacy of former ASU President Grady Gammage and his wife, Kathryn, is awarded each year to only four high school seniors who demonstrate an outstanding academic record and a passion for community service. To qualify for the prize, students must also be first-time freshmen, National Merit Semi-Finalists, National Merit Finalists, or National Hispanic Scholars.

Brian was the first to attend ASU – he was a student in the 1980s - and receive the Gammage Scholarship. His daughter followed in his footsteps, entering ASU in 2017.

Laura, a sophomore majoring in Biological Sciences with a concentration in Conservation Biology and Ecology, is proud to be an ASU Gammage Scholar legacy. “I really enjoy the connection I have with family members who lived and studied on the same campus as I do now,” she said. “Being a member of the Gammage Scholars alongside my dad is a really great position to be in.”

Brian, who graduated in May 1989 with a degree in Computer Systems Engineering, is now the lead software architect for Simscape Multibody, a mechanical simulation and analysis application distributed by The MathWorks for its Simulink platform. He reflected on his interactions with Kathryn Gammage. “Kathryn was fond of saying that she wanted to support students forever, and Laura and I are certainly evidence of that commitment,” he said.

“We span an entire generation yet have benefited from the same program. Between us are so many other Gammage Scholars that the scholarship has also helped.”

We caught up with Laura and Brian to talk about their experiences at ASU and to hear their perspectives on how Barrett and the Gammage Scholarship provide opportunities for growth, both during and after undergraduate studies.

Laura Mirtich

What ultimately convinced you to come to ASU?

Geographically, it was close to home and located in an urban setting that I wanted to live in. I also liked the idea of being at a large university where there would be abundant resources and opportunities for students such as extracurricular activities, research and internship opportunities, and a wide variety of classes. Barrett also was a big draw for me, since it’s a nationally recognized honors college that I felt would open up a lot of doors for me. 

Why did you decide to join Barrett? What advantages do you see in being an honors student?

Being in a small, close-knit college within the context of a larger university really appealed to me. I feel that I have already begun to see the advantages of being an honors student in a number of ways. For one, taking The Human Event was an important experience that helped me grow as a student and taught me lessons about thinking and writing that I have been able to apply in other classes. I also have enjoyed the opportunity to get to know some of my professors better by completing honors contracts. Finally, I think being in Barrett has given me unique access to a network of like-minded peers and helpful advisors whose guidance I can draw on while navigating my academic and career path.

What has your ASU experience been like so far?

My ASU experience has gone far beyond what I expected when coming to college. I really feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to thrive in an environment where students are pushed to achieve great things, but also supported by an incredibly strong faculty that provides invaluable advice and direction. Some highlights of my experience have been working in faculty research labs through the School of Life Sciences and the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, joining ASU’s on-campus Bridge chapter, and enjoying social events put on by Barrett and ASU.

What are your future goals? How do you think Barrett will help you get there?

After college, I hope to get a master’s degree in Environmental Public Policy and work in an environmental advocacy capacity either for a government agency or a nonprofit group. I think Barrett will help me achieve this goal in two ways. First, I feel that the Barrett curriculum encourages skills that would serve me well in my future studies and career. Second, the opportunities open to Barrett students set them up well for their long-term goals. Being in Barrett has allowed me to pursue research, develop close faculty relations, work as a teaching assistant, have access to guidance from advisors, and surround myself with a high-achieving, dedicated community. All of these are resources I can draw on as I graduate and begin pursuing my goals for the future.

How has being a Gammage scholar improved your undergraduate experience?

Being a Gammage scholar has allowed me to engage with community service projects that I care about alongside a hardworking group of peers. In particular, I have had the opportunity this semester to work on an ecology-focused project to boost conservation efforts on ASU’s campus, which has already proved rewarding and enjoyable work. My undergraduate experience is supplemented in a unique and meaningful way by the chance to design and execute Gammage projects, and I also value the connections with both faculty and peers that I have made through the Gammage organization.

Brian Mirtich

How would you describe your experience at ASU? What were the highlights of your experience?

My four years at ASU greatly broadened my horizons. They showed me the wider world of technological progress and motivated me to help contribute to it. The opportunities at such a large, world-class research university were diverse and abundant. I had several outstanding professors who sparked my interest in engineering and mathematics. Working at the Math Learning Center as a tutor and instructor was a rewarding campus job. I also enjoyed many aspects of campus life and made some life-long friends. 

How did being a Gammage Scholar affect your college experience?

Grady Gammage, Sr. played a central role in shaping the university into its modern form, and his wife, Kathryn, continued his legacy by building relationships with the greater community.  Receiving a scholarship with the name Gammage attached was, frankly, a little intimidating.  However, Kathryn had an incredible ability to put people at ease. 

In those early days, the Gammage Scholars attended cultural events, municipal banquets, private showings of Frank Lloyd Wright homes, tours of industrial enterprises, and other activities. Best of all, we enjoyed informal gatherings with Kathryn, Grady, Jr., and the faculty and staff on the scholarship committee. We were only a few back then, and it is not inaccurate to say it seemed a little like a family. I felt very fortunate to be a part of that program. It made me strive harder to do my best as ASU. In my graduate and professional career, it motivated me to act as an ambassador for ASU, enlightening others about this gem of a university sparkling in the Arizona desert. 

In addition to the academic skills, my time at ASU and as a Gammage Scholar instilled confidence and a drive to attack challenging problems. It also helped me see the value of investing time mentoring others, which is something I try to do every day, just as so many at ASU had done for me. 

How do you feel about your daughter now attending ASU as a Gammage Scholar?

I could not be more proud of Laura. It is honestly a bit surreal since her experiences conjure up many of my own from over 30 years ago. I am sure the scholarship will foster her pride in ASU and forge connections that will have a profound impact on her career – just as it has done for me.

The social mission component of the Gammage Scholarship was not yet developed during my tenure. However, I think it is an excellent addition to the program and one that I know resonates strongly with Laura and her generation.

What advantages do you think your daughter may derive from being an honors student in Barrett?

I can see why she absolutely loves it. The Human Event class is a thought-provoking survey over a broad literary landscape that she has enjoyed both as a student and a TA. 

Laura is interested in graduate study, and the requirement to write and defend an undergraduate thesis will be excellent preparation for that. The opportunity to live and study with so many other academically driven peers is certain to bring out the best in all of them. Because Barrett students share a love of learning, I expect that many of the friendships Laura is forming at Barrett now will last a lifetime.

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