The path to Rose-Hulman wasn’t part of a long-term plan for Warren Mickens.
The 1977 mechanical engineering alumnus lost his father at a young age and didn’t see a path to college with his mother working a custodial job to raise he and his three siblings, despite Mickens being one of the top students at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana.
“I didn’t have a solid plan to attend college because we didn’t have the financial resources” he says.
When his principal and guidance counselor saw his SAT scores, they pulled him into an office and provided some very direct coaching for his post-secondary options. They punctuated the discussion with a stern “You’re our first 700 Math SAT in several years. Take this seriously. And yes, we’ll call your mother!”
“I was too unaware to realize they were paying attention to my SAT scores and educational choices” Mickens says, adding that he had done “what any self-respecting inner city kid would do” when he first saw his SAT results, and hid them.
As he was weighing options to attend the U.S Military and Naval Academies, Mickens received a call from the late Chuck Howard, the longtime dean of admissions at Rose, to recruit him. A subsequent visit to campus changed his educational and career path – permanently.
“The National Merit and Indiana State Scholarship awards I received suddenly made attendance affordable,” he says. “I never looked back nor regretted the choice.”
Mickens who went on to a career with positions in the automotive, manufacturing and telecommunications industries, adds, “I secured 10 job offers my senior year (at Rose), so I can’t say I wasn’t rewarded. I have had some great assignments. That’s one of the benefits of a Rose-Hulman education.”
His 40-year career included experience leading technology and manufacturing companies throughout the world. He last served as Vice President of Wholesale Operations for CenturyLink in Denver from 2008 until he retired in 2018. Previously, Mickens was Vice President of Services at Alcatel-Lucent (Lisle, Illinois), and General Program Manager for Alcatel (Wellington, New Zealand) where he ran engineering and operations for Telecom New Zealand. Other assignments included Vice President of Planning and Engineering at AT&T Midwest(formerly Ameritech) and Director of Cummins Worldwide Government Business.
After meeting his future wife, Joyce, who was attending Indiana State University while Mickens was at Rose, and graduating, he began his career at Cummins Engine Co. Mickens spent three years there in manufacturing operations and as a field test engineer before he attended Harvard Business School.
“When you have those (professional) experiences and the educational background from Rose, there was enough technical and economics education that some of the first year quantitative classes (at Harvard) were actually easy for me” says Mickens. “That was a solid advantage for me.”
Looking back on his first year at Rose, Mickens admits it was an eye-opener. In addition to adjusting to the academic rigor and all male student body, he faced significant adjustments culturally and socially having come from a public all Black high school to a private college with only 10 Black students.
“I’m the African American class of 1977,” he says with a chuckle. “I can say that with humor now. It wasn’t so funny at the time. My high school friends thought I had lost my mind when I matriculated to Rose. Many of them attended Purdue, Indiana or ISU and had a very different experience.”
He adds, “You are rewarded when you finish the four years and a world opens up to you, which you weren’t even aware of – at least, I wasn’t. I had professors who were like tough fathers to me. It became my place. I became comfortable there.”
So comfortable, in fact, that Mickens joined the institute’s Board of Trustees in 2001 and remains a Board Trustee today. As one of the Black members of the Board, having that representation is important to him, Mickens says, adding that he expects to remain on the Board for as long as he lives. He also adds that he’s pleased with the growth in Black student participation at Rose in recent years, with this year’s enrollment the largest single class of Black first-year students, and expects to see those numbers continue to increase.
“One of the reasons why I’m still involved to a high degree is I really want students to understand they made a good decision and here are the future rewards for you,” Mickens says. “There are definite benefits to having a Rose degree. You’re part of a family and a well-regarded club. It’s a great brand name.”
Warren and Joyce Mickens are happily retired in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. They are the proud parents of two sons who happen to both be Valparaiso University graduates and engineers.