Jeffrey Andrew Mikeska Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics
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.
Jeffrey on the football field, October 27, 2007.
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.”
Jeffrey’s friends, teachers, and family members came together to establish the Jeffrey Mikeska Endowed Presidential Scholarship – UT’s most prestigious scholarship reserved for exceptional student leaders like Jeffrey. His parents could not think of a better way to celebrate Jeffrey’s life and passion for education than to give back to the school he loved.
“It’s hard to believe, but April 16, 2011 marked the second anniversary of Jeffrey’s passing. He was optimistic, cheerful, determined, funny, and did not want attention paid to him because of his medical issues. I always believed that Jeffrey was the bravest person I have ever known,” says Mary Mikeska. “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 Jeffrey’s spirit and legacy live on through his scholarship recipients.”