Hamline News

Redefining ready

Robert Mikulak’s gift helps prepare students for their post-college career.  

Robert Mikulak ’64 knows firsthand how important it is to have practical experience during undergraduate studies. Though he came to Hamline with the intent of studying physics, a well-timed chemistry class with Professor Ole Runquist led him down another path. When Runquist suggested that Mikulak assist with laboratory research during his freshman year, Mikulak happily accepted—a decision that gained him a publication and launched a lifelong career related to chemistry.

Through Mikulak’s time at Hamline and beyond, Runquist continued to act as a mentor. After graduating from MIT and doing one postdoc in chemistry in Germany and then another in political science back at MIT, Mikulak even returned to Hamline to fill in for Runquist while he was on sabbatical, teaching organic chemistry plus a course on science and public policy. Mikulak spent the majority of his career working at the State Department in Washington, D.C., eventually becoming ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2010; winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013; and retiring in 2015. Throughout, Mikulak and Runquist remained in close contact.

When Runquist told Mikulak of a project in which he was interested—the Hamline Initiative for Professional and Academic Liaisons (HIPAL)—Mikulak enthusiastically offered his support. The program, a four-year professional development initiative designed for students pursuing degrees in the natural sciences, is meant to help students acquire the same sort of beyond-the-classroom skills to which Mikulak was introduced while doing research with Runquist.

“When I went to college, most people didn’t think too much about career readiness,” Mikulak said. “You got your degree and then learned networking, communication, and teamwork on the job—hopefully. But there are structured experiences that help people learn as well. To the extent that you can help people along that path, I think it makes sense. It’s something that resonates with my own experience.”

Appreciation for Runquist and the concept of career development inspired Mikulak to make the lead gift to establish HIPAL. Many other donors have since joined him in investing in HIPAL and other internship and research programs that grant Pipers practical experience.  

“Runquist is a guy who has a lot of ideas—and a higher proportion of good ideas than most people,” Mikulak said. “He has a kind of curiosity about things that makes for a really great combination. He inspired a lot of students. He’s a Hamline treasure.”

Gratitude for Runquist wasn’t the only driving factor for Mikulak, though; the school as a whole, which awarded him an honorary degree in 2001, had a huge impact on him. “Hamline has benefited me so much,” he said. “I feel a responsibility to try and give back by funding things to benefit today’s students.”