October 2009
  The Link > Alumni Profiles  
Michael Kauffelt in his Texas style office, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Michael Kauffelt
BS '83 - Economics

Walk into Michael Kauffelt's office and you'll see his UT Dallas economics degree hung prominently on the wall, surrounded by typical Texas decor including a set of longhorns and a cowboy hat. This may not appear unusual for an office in Dallas, Houston or elsewhere in the Lone Star State, but it is very out of place in Pittsburgh, Pa. Kauffelt is president and CEO of Bill Few & Associates, one of the largest financial planning firms in western Pennsylvania with roughly $1 billion in assets under management.

"I had a great experience at UT Dallas," said Kauffelt. "I went on to do an MBA here at Carnegie Mellon University, which was useful, but so much of what I learned at UT Dallas gave me the foundation I needed to be successful."

Those skills have been put to the test in this latest economic downturn as the firm manages assets for about 2,000 clients. "Nearly every investor has been looking for the light at the end of this dark tunnel, and we're hopeful that a turnaround is near," Kauffelt said. He added that one of the best things his firm does is advise clients to keep a long-term outlook. "We all tend to forget that good times don't last forever. Investors should have learned their lesson with the dot-com crash, but it was only a few short years later when all the attention turned to real estate and the thought that huge gains could be sustained in that sector."

Even with Kauffelt's significant business and family commitments — he and his wife, Doris, have six daughters — he makes time to support UT Dallas. In March, he hosted a reception in Pittsburgh for local UT Dallas alumni. This event kicked off the "Hello Tour," a new series of regional alumni events UT Dallas created to reach out to alumni beyond North Texas. Pittsburgh was the first city, followed by events in Houston, Indianapolis and Taipei, Taiwan. Hello Tour events will take place this fall in Seattle (October 23) and in Austin (November 17).

Alumnus Michael Kauffelt accepting a gift of thanks from Dr. Conley at the "Hello Pittsburgh" alumni event.
Michael Kauffelt (right) accepts a gift of thanks from Dr. Conley for hosting the "Hello Pittsburgh" alumni event.
"I thought for years that I was the only UT Dallas alum in Pittsburgh," Kauffelt said, but nearly 20 alumni and other guests turned out to receive an update from Dr. Aaron Conley, vice president for development and alumni relations. Special guest speaker Dr. Rick McCullough (BS '82, Chemistry) also spoke about his Pittsburgh start-up company, Plextronics, and his role as vice president for research at Carnegie Mellon University. "I'm delighted to learn that UT Dallas is doing so well," Kauffelt said. Of his experience hosting this event, Kauffelt added, "I think we were all impressed to see UT Dallas is reaching out to help connect us back to our school, as well as to each other right here in Pittsburgh. If we can keep building this pride in UT Dallas, maybe we'll start to see more longhorns in offices here besides mine."

Julia Read-LaBelle
MS '88 - Mathematics

Imagine working in a place where you simply walk down the hall and casually pass legendary sports figures, such as Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. Or you watch fellow employees step onto a tennis court and try to return a serve from Pete Sampras. For Julia Read-LaBelle, crossing paths with superstars from baseball Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and marathon champions Alberto Salazar and Joan Benoit Samuelson, to current-day icons like soccer phenom Ronaldo and cycling superstar Lance Armstrong is just part of an ordinary day at the office.

These kinds of chance encounters are among the many benefits she receives working at the global headquarters for Nike in Beaverton, Oregon. Read-LaBelle joined the company in 2000 in an information technology position. A few years later, she took on a new role in the corporate audit group and is currently the data mining manager. "I put my UT Dallas math skills to work every day in this job," Read-LaBelle said. "We began applying data analysis and mining techniques to our internal audit practice a few years ago, which was pretty unique at the time." Read-LaBelle said this approach can help improve productivity, assess differences in global markets and root out possible cases of fraud or mismanagement.

Julia Read-LaBelle standing next to a special display of Air Jordan shoes at the Nike headquarters.
Sports memorabilia can be found everywhere throughout Nike, including this special display of Air Jordan shoes, celebrating the 25th year of the brand.
Like many UT Dallas graduate students of the 1980s, Read-LaBelle took her classes part time while working full time at Texas Instruments. Her job at TI challenged her quantitative skills as she programmed signal processing algorithms. "Math always came fairly easy to me," Read-LaBelle said, "but my experience at UT Dallas was a great challenge since it forced me to look at math from a broader theoretical perspective."

Her experience at TI and UT Dallas also challenged her on a personal level as she frequently found herself in a field dominated by men. "One experience at UT Dallas was especially humorous," she recalled. "I signed up for an introductory course in electrical engineering since I thought I might like it. I came to the first class a little early and was the only one in the classroom. As other students began arriving, all of whom were men, they looked at me, then looked at the room number and walked away, assuming they were at the wrong room!"

Though two decades have passed since she earned her master's degree, Read-LaBelle still remembers the experience fondly. "I had some great professors who really challenged me," she said, adding that she may pay a visit to campus. "We have plans to be back in Dallas to visit family and friends, and I'm intrigued by what I've heard about all the new buildings. It's hard to picture UT Dallas transforming from a commuter school into a traditional college campus, but it all sounds wonderful."
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