Engineering Alumni Association presents Loyalty Award, Innovation Award and Young Alumni Award

Sue Abreu (BSIDE ’78), Bill Link (BSME ’70, MSME ’71, PhD ME ’73) and Colin McGonagill (BSME ’10) were honored in September.
Purdue Engineering alumni Bill Link, Sue Abreu and Colin McGonagill were honored Sept. 15 by the Engineering Alumni Association.

Three College of Engineering alumni were honored during the Purdue Engineering Alumni Association Dinner and Awards ceremony on Friday, Sept. 15.

Sue Abreu (BSIDE ’78) was the recipient of the Loyalty Award for her “45-year consistent commitment to Purdue and specifically her dedication and impact she has on future women engineers.” Since its inception in 2012, the award has been given to a graduate of the college who has demonstrated extraordinary loyalty to Purdue and the College of Engineering.

“I am very grateful to all the staff and faculty at Purdue who supported me during my meandering journey while I was on campus trying to find where I would fit,” Abreu said. “That support is the basis for my affection for Purdue and pride in being part of the Purdue Engineering Alumni Community — a community that deserves the great reputation it has throughout the world. To be recognized for loyalty to this great community is a wonderful honor.”

For “the extreme impact and exemplary innovative developments that he has made in the ophthalmology industry,” Bill Link (BSME ’70, MSME ’71, PhD ME ’73) was honored with the Innovation Award, given to a graduate of the college who has developed a product, idea or process that has had a significant impact on industry or society.

“It is truly an honor to receive the Purdue Engineering Alumni Innovation Award. Given the impact that Purdue has had on my life, I am humbled to be recognized in this way,” Link said. “It is clear to me that the positive impact and empowerment I gained from my time at Purdue has enabled me to make a difference in my chosen field of healthcare and, specifically, vision and eye health.”

Colin McGonagill (BSME ’10) was presented with the Young Alumni Award for “recognizing the need for change in his field and implementing that change by starting his own successful company.” The award, initially awarded in 2012, is presented to a graduate of the college who is 35 years old or younger who has achieved significant rapid advancement in their chosen field.

“I feel incredibly honored to receive this award,” McGonagill said. “This award validates several years of hard work and the values that Purdue University instilled in me. I have tried to put the values of respect and innovation to work and believe those are being honored here.”

Loyalty Award

Sue Abreu always has been intentional about returning to West Lafayette’s campus to share insight and impart knowledge, whether speaking to freshmen in the Women in Engineering Seminar or students in Purdue’s Army ROTC.

But rarely had she thought about how many visits she’d accumulated since graduating.

And then Abreu was chosen to receive the EAA’s “Loyalty Award,” and she paused to think about that willing persistence.

In the 45 years since receiving her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary engineering, Abreu has returned almost every year to speak with students. A nominator for the award estimated in the FYE seminar alone, Abreu has shared her story with as many as 8,000 students over the years.

“I love seeing the students, hearing what they are thinking and telling them about my pathway at Purdue,” Abreu said. “When I started at Purdue, I struggled with where I fit in the world of engineering. I knew I liked math and science but didn’t know where to channel that interest. Fortunately, I had a very understanding first-year advisor who let me explore. So when I talk with the students, I let them know it’s OK to not know where you fit. It’s OK if you have interests that don’t fit a traditional path in engineering. Engineering is part of just about everything around us. They just need to keep exploring their interests to see how to blend them with engineering.

“One of the great things about Purdue is the very wide variety of classes and organizations that are open to students. They can go exploring something new every semester to find what makes their heart sing. And, they can use engineering as a stepping stone to future careers, such as medicine, law or business. Engineering is a great foundation from which to build their lives and follow their dreams to fulfilling careers.”

It certainly proved to be for Abreu, whose career journey includes roles as a nuclear medicine physician, nuclear medicine consultant to the Army Surgeon General, colonel in the United States Army and attorney who was appointed as associate chief administrative judge (technical) on the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A fulfilling, challenging, accomplished career. With Purdue at the heart every step, even though the M.D. and J.D. degrees were achieved on other campuses.

“I am an engineer first and always,” Abreu said. “I think like an engineer no matter what I’m doing. In my current work as an administrative judge, that is the foundation of how I sort through the facts and issues in each case before me. The technical nature of many cases is a natural fit with my engineering background. But even when the issue is a purely legal one, my engineering approach gives me a sound basis for decisions.”

Innovation Award

Bill Link is a leader in the healthcare industry with more than two decades of operations experience and a proven record of building and managing large, successful medical product companies.

Link, founder and managing partner of Flying L Partners and founder and managing director of Versant Ventures, specializes in early-stage investing in medical devices. Versant, a venture capture firm committed to helping exceptional entrepreneurs build the next generation of great companies, has more than $3.2 billion under management. Flying L Partners, a venture capital firm focused exclusively on eye health, has approximately $185 million under management.

Purdue is at the heart of Link’s ability to innovate, passion to build, inspire and develop novel technology and connect and grow others who have the same nature.

“The core learnings I gained while an engineering student at Purdue provided me the skills, and importantly, the courage to try new things,” Link said. “And we can’t innovate alone. When there is a critical problem and an unmet need, it requires multiple constituents to team up to take on this task.”

The four key constituents required for innovation in Link’s field, he says, are the inventor/entrepreneur, the key opinion leaders who are the surgeons and healthcare providers, the investors (access to capital) and the corporate leaders committed to the field who can acquire the innovative program and scale it world-wide.

Link has been pivotal in that process.

Prior to entering venture capital, he founded two companies that still are leaders in the field of surgical ophthalmology. In 1987, he founded and served as chairman and CEO of Chiron Vision, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chiron Corporation specializing in ophthalmic surgical products. About a decade later, Chiron Vision was acquired by Bausch and Lomb. Prior to Chiron Vision, Link founded and served as president of American Medical Optics (AMO), a division of American Hospital Supply Corporation. AMO was sold to Allergan in 1986.

No wonder it’s difficult for Link to choose a single proudest moment of his career.

“(It’s) when I meet someone who has benefited from the innovation from one of my companies,” he said. “It may be a person that has had cataract surgery with an intraocular lens implant and is seeing better than they have for years. It may be someone who has had LASIK surgery and is able to see beautifully without the need for glasses or contact lenses. Or it may be someone who has had their glaucoma effectively treated with the insertion of a micro-stent in their eye — the procedure now known as MIGS. 

“These encounters make me smile and feel the quiet satisfaction of knowing how many people have benefited from the innovations brought to market by the numerous companies I have had the good fortune to work with.”

Young Alumni Award

While Colin McGonagill was at Purdue, he intentionally worked with as many professors and departments as he could. The approach allowed him to experience myriad engineering problems and exposed him to diversity of thought, which he considers a function of innovation.

Once in the workforce, McGonagill quickly realized how that approach would serve him well, giving him a “great mental model” that provides the first reference point to start working any problem set.

The fourth-generation oil and gas worker has used that skill set consistently in career, including as CEO of McGonagill & Bay Exploration (MBX), a company with a mission to reduce the absolute cost of energy to create demand in previously priced out markets. McGonagill started the company — and its precursor, McGonagill, Lambert & Bay Oil & Gas Management — because he and his partners wanted “freedom” and “operational control to drive the energy industry at a faster pace.”

MBX applies underutilized physical principles, such as fluid dynamics and heat transfer, to underappreciated geologic reservoirs. That approach consistently has given MBX an edge over its competitors. The company was formed through a strategic alliance of four members, McGonagill, Frank Bay, Thad Bay and Franklin Bay.

“Being a leader of a great team is very rewarding, but it also means I am responsible for all the failures and none of the successes,” McGonagill said. “You experience the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows, but the freedom you gain is second to none. While financial rewards are great, my best day is seeing a teammate execute a highly complex task perfectly. A task that probably was previously outside their skill set. When that happens, work becomes art. It becomes play, and that brings me joy.”

Prior to forming MBX, McGonagill was the founder and CEO of Pecos River Exploration. He also worked for ConocoPhillips and Qstar. At Qstar, a small private equity-backed oil and gas company, he was taught geology and the application of economic and financial theory. McGonagill was one of the first to advocate for lateral length normalizations when valuing horizontal wells — applying basic fluid dynamic principles learned at Purdue — to the oil field. The method led to Qstar purchasing approximately 35,000 acres in Howard County, Texas. Qstar was divested to SM Energy for $1.6 billion in late 2016.

McGonagill has helped raise more than $800 million in capital commitments for oil-related projects around the United States and the UK.