It’s often said that a degree in Engineering is a universal degree and can be used in nearly any profession. Arnold and Hazel Donald are two strong examples of that as alumni of the Dual Degree Program who earned engineering degrees at Washington University in St. Louis, but took those degrees in very different directions in their successful careers.
Written by Beth Miller — Photo by Devon Hill
Arnold, a native of New Orleans, and Hazel, a native of Boston, came together to Washington University from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where they met prior to their freshman year and married at the end of their sophomore year. As students in the Dual Degree, or 3-2, Engineering Program, Arnold earned a degree in economics at Carleton, while Hazel earned a degree in math. At WashU, Arnold earned a degree in mechanical engineering and Hazel earned a degree in systems science and mathematics.
While Arnold had offers to continue his education at other schools, including Stanford University and Columbia University in New York, they chose Washington University, crediting former academic dean Harold P. Brown, who launched the Dual Degree Program in 1973. The program allows undergraduate students to earn two bachelor’s degrees in five years at two universities: a non-engineering degree at another university and an engineering degree at WashU.
Since they were married, it was important that the school they chose was a good fit for both of them. The Donalds say Brown was very supportive, both academically and personally, even giving them a crib for their first baby, born six weeks before they graduated from WashU in 1977.
Their Washington University education has taken both of them far.
Arnold Donald has an impressive résumé, currently as chief executive of Carnival Corp.; and previously as president and chief executive of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation; chairman of Merisant Co., which makes and markets Equal sweetener; and in a variety of executive roles during more than 20 years at Monsanto Co. He serves numerous boards of for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations. At WashU, he is a member of the Board of Trustees, a member of the School of Engineering & Applied Science National Council and co-chair of the school’s Leading Together capital campaign.
He began at Monsanto as a summer employee while still a student at Washington University. During that summer, Arnold built a linear programming model — something no summer employee had done before — attracting management’s attention.
“Someone recognized in me a personality trait that they thought would do well in marketing and general management, but I had been locked in on being in a plant,” he says. “That job opened my mind to other possibilities of career choices.”
After graduating, Arnold joined Monsanto full-time and later used another model he built to save a customer a significant amount of money.
“I felt like I could touch lives and make people feel confident in their ability to do math. I don’t care if you love it or not, but you need to believe you can do it.”
— Hazel Donald
“Engineering gives you critical thinking, analytical thinking and quantitative analysis, so it’s helped me in everything I’ve done,” Arnold says. “Engineering also causes you to question everything, which is a very good thing in business, because the obvious answer isn’t always the right one. It’s really healthy to question your conclusion and ask what could make this the wrong conclusion.”
Hazel worked as an actuary for several years after graduating from WashU, then as a systems engineer for IBM working on mainframe computers. She later returned to WashU to earn a master’s in teaching in 1991 and became a math teacher. She also had two more children during this time.
“Engineering helped me as a teacher, because when the kids would say, ‘Why do we need to know this?’ I had lots of answers to pull out,” Hazel says.
Changing from a career in math and engineering to teaching came from her desire to make a difference in people’s lives.
“I felt like I could touch lives and make people feel confident in their ability to do math,” Hazel says. “I don’t care if you love it or not, but you need to believe you can do it.”
In their last year at WashU, the Donalds were resident advisers in a residence hall. In addition, Arnold was an assistant to then-Dean James McKelvey, PhD, and helped found the Society of Black Engineers to support other African-American students in Engineering and to prevent students from leaving Engineering.
“There were a lot of students struggling, not because they couldn’t do the work, but because there was no support,” Hazel says. “The number of African-American students wasn’t that high, and it doesn’t take a lot to make an inhospitable environment.”
The Donalds have been taking cruises for many years — long before Arnold began his current role with Carnival. Both said their favorite cruise was to Antarctica. “There are not words to describe it — it is phenomenal,” Hazel says. “It’s just one of those things that you have to see.”
The society was modeled after the black student union they had been a part of at Carleton. Shortly after the WashU society formed, similar groups at other schools reached out, and together they decided to create a national organization, now called the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Donald ran for vice president of the national group.
“I decided I wanted to be vice president so I wouldn’t have to do anything, but could still put it on my résumé,” he says, laughing. “Instead, as vice president I traveled around the country talking to companies to get funding.”
NSBE now has more than 30,000 members worldwide in 394 active student and professional chapters.
Those skills he developed influencing corporations to give of their resources for NSBE built on his background, which stressed the importance of sharing and giving back. The Donalds are very generous with their time and resources in the St. Louis area and nationally, including funding a scholarship at WashU.
“Both of us grew up in families that shared whatever we had with others,” Hazel says. “We decided that St. Louis was going to be our home, so it’s good to try to make it the best place it can be.”
For Arnold, his generosity is a way to give back to those he says helped him through his education and career.
“So many people helped me — my family, Dean Brown, people in administration, and before that my church, the priests and seminarians,” he says. “So many people adopted me at Monsanto, took me under their wings and helped me. There’s no way I would have had the great experiences I’ve had in life — I wouldn’t have met Hazel — if I hadn’t had a whole lot of help along the way. It’s fun to give back, it’s rewarding to give back and it’s natural to give back.”
Engineering Momentum is published by the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis. Unless otherwise noted, articles may be reprinted without permission with appropriate credit to the publication, school and university.