Alum Mitchell Waldman on MAE’s impact and his relationship with department

Mitchell “Mitch” Waldman’s long and illustrious career practically brims with prestige and honor. 

The UF MAE alum served for nearly 30 years in a variety of executive positions with the federal government, including as deputy assistant secretary of the Navy, director of cost engineering and industrial analysis for Naval Sea Systems Command, and deputy program manager for the Navy’s Amphibious Warfare Programs. He achieved a prominent role on the nationwide stage when he became national security advisor to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. 

Moving to the private sector, he transitioned to Northrop Grumman, one of the largest aerospace and military technology companies in the world. There, he was the company’s corporate director for acquisition policy before eventually becoming vice president of business development of advanced programs and technology for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector. In that role, he worked to design the architecture, concepts, and opportunities for aircraft (manned and unmanned), space systems, and directed energy systems.

This was followed by a 10-year stint at Huntington Ingalls Industries, the largest military shipbuilding company in the country, where he served as executive vice president of government and customer relations. He spearheaded HII’s interactions with the executive and legislative branches of government, business and trade associations, think tanks, and universities, while also leading its corporately funded research and development. 

Finally, Waldman is currently offering strategic and advisory services to aerospace and defense clients as principal of M Barnet Advisors. 

He has received the Distinguished Civilian Service Award from both the US Navy and the State of Mississippi, as well as the Architect of the Year Award from the DC City Council of Engineering Societies.

As his career has shot like a rocket into a universe of success, Waldman has come to realize the importance of maintaining contact with the swampy launchpad of his professional life. While he initially didn’t pursue much of an ongoing relationship with UF after graduating in 1982 with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, he decided to commit to building a connection with his alma mater after his 2011 Outstanding Alumnus Award (the department’s highest honor for alumni) brought him back to campus. A fellow alum, Dr. Knox Millsaps (who is now head of the Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department of the Office of Naval Research), reached out and reconnected Waldman with David Hahn, the MAE department chair at the time.

“Ultimately, after nearly three decades, I realized that the foundation upon which I built a successful career was originally laid at UF, and it was time to start giving back, I call it: time, talent, and treasure,” he said. 

He credited his UF MAE experience as an essential element in the development of the skills that would serve him well as an executive in government and industry.

“It really struck me that many of the skills and interests and, certainly, competence that I had with regard to not just my technical acumen, but also my management and leadership acumen, was really rooted in Florida,” he said. “It’s those three areas. And you can directly link that acumen to classes, you can link that to student groups, and you can link that to student projects and competitions. And all those things really help an entry-level engineer start out and get into the field and really open many different professional pathways.”

One of the main ways he remains actively engaged with UF MAE is through his role as chair of the department’s External Advisory Board, which provides guidance and advice to MAE and assists with strategic initiatives. This entails volunteering time and service to support efforts like consideration of curriculum, ABET accreditation, and other significant department issues by consulting with the department chair and faculty. 

“It’s an honor to be engaged with that. I’ve been engaged for a decade with the External Advisory Board,” he said. “We’re here to support the department and its alignment with the college and university. And sometimes we can help with that alignment because of the perspective we bring.”

As for the future, particularly the future of his relationship with UF MAE, he acknowledges that it likely will (and should) evolve over time, but remains sure as ever that he will continue investing his time, talent, and treasure in it.

“Well, I hope so. I’m honored to serve,” he said when asked if this relationship will continue to develop. “So I’m planning to continue to be useful and contribute.”

A major reason for his determination is his steadfast conviction that it’s his generation’s duty to elevate the upcoming crop of engineers and industry leaders.

“Part of the responsibility of my generation is to also raise the next generation. I think about that in business, and I think about that in academia. There absolutely is a need to think about succession planning. You do yourself, your organization, and maybe a society a disservice by not thinking about succession planning, who comes next, and bringing those people up and training them and helping them move forward,” he said. “So yes, I still see a level of engagement for me. I suspect it will change over time as I follow through on my commitment and responsibility to raise the next generation of leaders.”

Story by: Ben Crosbie
Marketing & Communications Student Assistant
UF Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
August 9, 2023