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Meet a Badger: Andy Zich ‘03

Andy Zich ‘03

What is your hometown?
Altoona, WI

Which years did you attend UW?
Jan 1999 - May 2003

What was your major and what degree did you obtain?
B.S. in Electrical Engineering

Describe your career.
I started Caterpillar’s college graduate training program shortly after graduating from Madison. I was fortunate to be back at UW-Madison as part of the Caterpillar recruiting team. This led to 12 years of recruiting full time and internship engineering students on campus with fellow alumna, Saboor Sheikh ’00.
With Caterpillar, I worked in a number of different product support roles supporting many Caterpillar telematics and engine products. The economic downturn in 2009 resulted in Caterpillar offering a voluntary severance package to employees. Friends and coworkers thought with the poor job market and economy that it was a bad time to leave a large stable company like Caterpillar, but I had several ideas that working a full-time engineering job didn't allow time to work on. I spent the next three years working on independent projects including co-founding an outdoor products company.

I learned a great deal and the experience left me feeling I had received an invaluable real-world education.

I thoroughly enjoyed those entrepreneurial years. During my time working outside of Caterpillar, I stayed in touch with many colleagues and friends. I learned the first fully autonomous haulage operational trial had started. As an electrical engineer, I found fully autonomous trucks the size of a 2-story house fascinating. I joined Caterpillar Electronics for a second time at the end of 2011, but this time working in mining technologies. I worked with autonomous technologies as it became commercially viable and expanded to customers all over the world. After an exciting seven years of working in mining technologies and machine electronics, I moved into my first Caterpillar role outside of Cat Electronics to Job Site Solutions. In my latest role, I get to partner with Caterpillar dealers and together we contract and consult customers to help them optimize their operations and maintain their equipment fleets.

Describe a fond memory of your years at UW.
I have countless memories of Madison. Babcock ice cream, football game days, 4-season bike riding, late-night study/lab sessions, 100s of hours in Engineering Hall, State Street, off-campus housing on the "engineering end of campus", busses, roommates, classmates I still see and others I just remember, etc., etc. One very fond memory of my years at the UW was an experience the university gave me off campus through the School of Engineering International Studies program. I was able to spend a semester at the Danish Technical University. Madison was so large and such a melting pot compared to what I knew previously, but it wasn't until traveling overseas and living abroad for a semester that I really understood what global really meant. This experience opened my eyes and got me hooked on traveling and experiencing the world, all while I took courses that counted toward my degree.

How would you describe the education you received at UW?
I started my degree at UW-Eau Claire to take some general studies classes and then transferred to UW-Madison for the outstanding nationally ranked engineering programs. My high school graduating class was 96 students, so I thought UW-EC, at 10,000 students, was big until I stepped out of my dorm room on the first day of class in Madison. I couldn't believe how many students there were! I learned to love the diversity and size of the UW and to this day, I believe if you are bored in Madison, then you must want to be bored! In Madison, there was always something interesting going on at all hours of the day.

What would you tell prospective students who are considering UW?
Go visit and participate in a campus tour. Translating a campus experience into words is difficult to do, so seeing it first hand is key. There is no better way to experience a large campus like Madison than to take a tour with guides who have the knowledge and history of the campus.

Why do you enjoy participating in the WAA HOI Chapter?
The People! The Badgers in the HOI are an extension of the people I remember from campus. A well cultured, interesting, creative, and spirited group of people. I am very proud of my Badger heritage and love spending time with others who also have a fond connection to the UW.

Describe your hobby.
My parents tell me I was interested in airplanes even as a toddler. I would stand at the chain-link fence of our local airport and just stare in awe at the planes. That amazement and intrigue about aviation never left me. When I graduated from college, a private pilot license was supposed to be my graduation present to myself but the practical, frugal, financial responsible engineer in me wouldn't let me do it. One Saturday a few years into my career I was listening to planes fly over my apartment, which was under the traffic pattern of an airport, and I finally admitted that after 20+ years of thinking about flying, I could admit that doing so wouldn't be an unjustified whim. I also had to admit that I hadn't found another hobby to satisfy the same desire of flying an airplane. I took my first lesson shortly after that in 2006 and received my first license in 2007. I learned to fly in a 1946 Ercoupe that flew so slow you could literally roll down the windows and rest your arm on the window.

I have always felt very fortunate to be able to fly. In 2015, after buying my first plane, I wanted to start giving back. I joined LifeLine Pilots (www.lifelinepilots.org), a Peoria based 501(c)(3). LifeLine Pilots facilitates free air transportation for financially distressed passengers with long-distance medical or humanitarian travel needs. The organization is often the only option the passengers have to get life-saving medical treatments. I joined LifeLine as a volunteer pilot and quickly learned there were more needs within the organization. For the past two years, I have been the Board Chairman and Interim Executive Director and feel I was able to gain a new real-world education in non-profits. This year we have expanded the staff, filled the full-time Executive Director role and recently elected a new chairman. I am very excited to have the time now to get back to flying passengers and participating as a director on the board of such a great organization.