Stephanie M. Whitehorse (BSMS&E ’96)
Director of intellectual property, physical sciences, Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation
We are honoring Stephanie as an engineer and patent agent who has applied her expertise to evaluating, patenting and commercializing more than 1,500 UW-Madison inventions, which have generated more than $100 million of royalty income and formed the basis of 45 startup companies.
How did you decide to attend UW-Madison?
I went to high school in McFarland, Wisconsin, and I was really interested in science and math. It was my goal to not stay in Madison, because I grew up here. I really wanted to study engineering. As I was looking at different colleges, I realized UW had a great engineering school, and was a bargain with in-state tuition.
How did you choose your major?
I was really interested in the idea of materials for biomedical applications and medical devices, but when I was an undergrad, we didn’t have a biomedical engineering degree yet. I was awarded a scholarship through the Department of Materials Science and Engineering for freshmen. I had to agree to take a one-credit intro to materials class first semester and a two-credit lab second semester. I took the classes and I was super excited about it.
Did you take any classes that were particularly memorable?
Interestingly, the most memorable were liberal arts elective classes because they were so different from the rest of my classes. During SOAR registration my advisor said, “What about theater?” In high school, I was on stage and set crew—not surprising; I’m an engineer. So I took a theater class. It was one of my easier classes that first semester, but also really fun. I got to go to plays, and it gave me a reason to do something outside of engineering. I also took a history of costume class, which was an advanced-level theater class. I really enjoyed it, perhaps because costume design and fashion also require a fair amount of technical design skill.
Who has played an important role in your career?
There are so many people! In addition to a supportive family, I’ve had several great supervisors. They were really good mentors who encouraged me to grow my skills and find ways to contribute, even though I did not come in with the same background as everybody else. I’ve always worked in roles that required a lot of collaboration and have been fortunate to work with incredibly talented colleagues throughout my career.
If you could go back to school today, what would you do?
I think biomedical engineering is still a field that is of interest to me, because that’s another degree with broad applicability and it’s a technology area that I really enjoy.
What advice would you give students today?
Try to find an internship or a co-op. Those are really great opportunities. Try to get a job in a lab with a faculty member, because that’s another great way to get more hands-on experience. I worked as an undergrad in Professor Worzala’s lab, and that was really valuable to me.
When I’m not busy spending time with my two children, Kyra and Isaac, who are now 17 and 18, I love to read and bake, and I do a lot of walking and hiking. My husband Adam and I still hang out on the Terrace in the summer and enjoy playing in a Euchre club.