A Scholarship Created in Memory of Aerospace Engineering Student


headshot of jeffrey mikeskaA note from Jeffrey’s mother Mary Mikeska… “It's hard to believe, but April 16 marked the second anniversary of Jeffrey's passing. I always believed that Jeffrey was the bravest person I have ever known. He was optimistic, cheerful, determined, funny, and did not want attention paid to him because of his medical issues. As I faced my own battle with breast cancer this year, I became even more acutely aware of the magnitude of his courage. In his too short 25 years, Jeffrey persevered against so many challenges and brought joy to everyone he met. I miss him dearly, but I take comfort knowing his spirit and legacy lives on through the recipients of the Jeffrey Mikeska Memorial Scholarship. My goal has always been to raise $50,000, so it will be an Endowed Presidential Scholarship - UT's most prestigious scholarship reserved for exceptional students and leaders like Jeffrey. We are just $2,132 away from the mark. I can think of no matter way to celebrate Jeffrey's life than to give back to the school he loved. Please join me in remembering Jeffrey.”

A more inspirational life story would be hard to find, even on a campus as large and diverse as UT. Many will remember Jeffrey Mikeska, BS ’08, as someone who overcame great hardship to complete his dual degrees in aerospace engineering and biology with a concentration in neurobiology. He did face extreme adversity, but that is not what defines the totality of his life, according to aerospace engineering professor Robert H. Bishop.

“As his teacher and as the department chair when Jeffrey was here, I remember him in a different light,” Bishop says. “He was a normal student, someone who loved to learn. More than anything else he wanted to know about things that fly and things that orbit.”

Beset by a lifelong battle with cancer that began when he was barely a year old, Jeffrey’s family and friends still marvel at how he persevered against the challenges he faced before finally succumbing to the disease in the spring of 2009, at the age of 25. “He kept getting knocked down, but would just get back up. He never stopped trying,” says his mother, Mary Mikeska, BA ’76. “He never complained about the obstacles life had given him. He looked for the positive in any situation,” adds father Brian Mikeska, BFA ’73.

Jeffrey had a high profile on campus after graduating from Austin’s LBJ Science Academy in 2002, refusing to let his continuing treatments and setbacks keep him from enjoying his college experience. He was president of the UT student chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and he drew the “Rocket Surgeon” comic for The Daily Texan. An accomplished Eagle Scout and Tae Kwon Do student, Jeffrey also loved to barbecue for friends and brew his own beer. He enjoyed participating in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest each year, and was on a UT team that placed in the national finals. He helped construct the University’s first picosatellite, which is now orbiting Earth.

The Parents’ Association honored Jeffrey with its Mike Wacker Award, which is reserved for students who exhibit courage and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity. “Even as he struggled in the last months of his too-short life,” says Bishop, “all he wanted to discuss with me was his plan to continue his studies in graduate school. He was an inspirational young man. I miss him.”

For everyone who misses Jeffrey Mikeska, or merely wishes to honor his life and his passion for education, his family and friends are working to establish an Endowed Presidential Scholarship in his memory. To date $47,868 has been raised and Jeffrey’s scholarship was awarded for the first time. If another $2,132 is raised, Jeffrey’s scholarship will reach the Presidential level, which has always been the goal of the Mikeska family. Considered one of UT’s most prestigious scholarship programs, Endowed Presidential Scholars are the best and brightest, and Jeffrey’s legacy will live on through these outstanding students.

This story adapted from the November/December 2009 Alcalde.

To contribute, checks should be made payable to The University of Texas at Austin. On the memo line write “Jeffrey Mikeska Memorial Scholarship”.

Mail to:

The University of Texas at Austin
Cockrell School of Engineering
University Station C2104
Austin, TX 78712

or contact Cockrell School development officer Bliss Angerman at bliss.angerman@austin.utexas.edu or 512-232-7085.

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