Published: Winter 2008 in Parents

Winds of Change

When Amir Mikhail enrolled at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1977, energy had emerged as an important political and economic issue. Oil prices rose precipitously after the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, and the Iranian Revolution in 1979 created additional price hikes and supply concerns.

Amir became one of the first people to earn a doctorate in a new field: wind energy. With the cost of petroleum and the desire to lessen dependency on foreign oil, wind power seemed like a promising industry for a long-term career. But oil prices collapsed in the 1980s and remained low for decades, removing much of the financial incentive and impetus toward alternative sources of energy. Despite the challenges, Amir remained with the fledgling industry throughout the tough times.

Today, wind power is gaining momentum — and not just because oil prices have reached new heights. Concern about global warming has reawakened interest in this completely renewable, emission-free source of energy. As senior vice president of engineering for Clipper Windpower in Carpinteria, Calif., Amir oversees the design and production of turbines and the study of potential sites. At present, wind energy represents only 1 percent of U.S. electricity, but it has the potential to do a lot more, and the government has plans for it to provide 20 percent of total electricity consumption by 2030. Amir says that concerns such as the visual impact of wind farms and the danger to migrating birds can be mitigated with careful siting. He actively promotes the value of wind power at numerous conferences and universities.

Amir and his wife, Maggie, have also become advocates for Westmont. Their daughter, Jennifer, entered last fall with the class of 2011, and they have agreed to join the Westmont Parents Council. As Santa Barbara residents, they met faculty and students through their church, Montecito Covenant, and they were always impressed.

“Westmont is the right place for Jennifer,” Maggie says. “She wanted a Christian atmosphere and found Westmont very attractive. It’s well balanced with a strong science program and a commitment to Christianity and the Bible.”

Maggie and Amir intend to be active participants on the Parents Council and raise issues that concern first-year parents. “For example, we’re interested in hearing how Westmont helps new students get acquainted,” Amir says. “We know it can be difficult for young women to make friends, and we’re grateful for activities in the dorms that help them understand each other.”

Jennifer plans to major in biology, and she is working with her academic adviser to arrange her schedule. Choosing classes and a career can be difficult, which makes the Mikhails interested in discussing advising and career-planning services with the Parents Council and college administrators.

Another question they want to raise relates to security and what Westmont does to keep students safe. They know other parents share such concerns.

Both Maggie and Amir were born in Egypt, and they hope Jennifer can spend a semester abroad. They also think international students can benefit from studying at Westmont. “Just think how the college could influence future leaders,” Maggie says. In particular, the couple hopes the college will reach out to students in troubled countries such as Pakistan and Iran as a way of strengthening the Christian communities there.

Two of Maggie’s relatives are Presbyterian pastors in Egypt, and the Mikhails are delighted that a Westmont alumna is spending a year there working with one of their churches.

Four years ago, Maggie began teaching math in the Santa Barbara School District after staying home to raise Jennifer and their son, Samuel, who began medical school at Touro University in Nevada last fall. Now that she has an empty nest, Maggie appreciates the opportunity to make an impact on her students at La Cumbre Junior High School. She and Amir look forward to their involvement with the Parents Council and hope to support fellow parents in any way they can.

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