Like many transplants to the Washington, D.C., area, Katie Huckfeldt ’13 struggled at first to find her footing. But, she says, the Mines Alumni Association’s D.C. M Club smoothed her transition when she relocated there after graduating from Mines with an environmental engineering degree. “It was so nice to come to a new city and find people from my school,” says Huckfeldt. “It was really beneficial, not just professionally but personally.”
After reaching out to other alumni, Huckfeldt found a career as a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Now, she spends her days reviewing applications for inventions related to electronic shopping to determine whether they meet the basic rules and legal requirements to be patentable. And her Mines education has proven invaluable.
“Every examiner who is hired is taught the ‘law’ part of patent law, but from the start we have to be able to understand the technical details of the applications,” she says. “While a lot of the inventions I work on are very relatable and things you encounter every day, understanding the actual software and systems behind them requires an engineering and math background.”
Eager to give back to the D.C. alumni M Club, she now serves as its coordinator, a role that allows her to use her event-planning skills and help new residents the way others helped her. The M Club has about 300 members and a busy social calendar that includes happy hours, outings to see the Colorado Rockies play the Washington Nationals, and, most recently, a river boat cruise amid D.C.’s famous cherry blossoms.
M Clubs serve an important purpose in the alumni association by giving members a sense of local community within a largeorganization. The D.C. M Club plays an important role for graduates because D.C. is “a city of transition,” Huckfeldt says. Mines alumni can meet interesting people and network in a place that can sometimes be intimidating. D.C.’s diversity is part of what makes the section special, she says. “We have people from all over the nation and the world.”
As someone who’s experienced the benefits of membership firsthand, Huckfeldt especially enjoys seeing new faces at mixers. “I love being able to say, ‘Hey, need someone to hang out with? You got it. Need advice on where to live, where to work? I’ve got an alum for you to talk to.’”
Huckfeldt thrives on the event-planning part of her role, because there are so many things to do in the D.C. area. She welcomes suggestions from members and strives to come up with outings and activities that work with members’ schedules. “I also try to plan for all budgets and ages,” she says.
One event she recommends to other M Club coordinators is a group trip to an “escape room,” which she calls “a great team-building experience.” The one she attended in D.C.’s historic Georgetown neighborhood drew 23 alumni, ranging in age from 20 to 70, who searched for clues and solved a series of puzzles. The group “got out with five minutes to spare,” she says. “It really made everyone come together.”
But getting people to attend events was a struggle when Huckfeldt first became the M Club coordinator. She boosted attendance by scheduling events regularly, getting to know members individually, and becoming a trusted resource for new residents. “The D.C. alums know my name, and they know they can contact me if they need anything,” she says.
Huckfeldt gives Mines a lot of the credit for her achievements, saying that the institution put her in an amazing position to succeed. A Littleton, Colorado, native with a strong interest in science and math, she made a group of friends during her freshman year who kept her focused and met regularly to study. She honed her communications skills as a staff member of The Oredigger, where she worked her way up from reporter to editor-in-chief. She also worked in the Admissions Office and for Mines magazine. An alumna of the McBride Honors Program, she now serves on its advisory board.
Huckfeldt applauds the recent decision by Mines and the alumni association to eliminate dues and open membership to all alumni. She expects the change to boost involvement in alumni sections, especially among younger graduates who may have tight budgets.
Paying dues “can be intimidating as a young alumnus because you don’t make a lot of money,” she says. “For younger alums, it’s just too hard starting out. All of us would love to give back once we’re a little more stable.
“We all have great jobs, great careers. We’re well aware that Mines gave us these opportunities.”