About the Hoeft T&M Program




A brief history

When Leonard Hoeft began his career at Caterpillar Tractor Co. in Peoria, Illinois in 1946, later joining the Wm. H. Ziegler Company in Minneapolis in 1954, he learned firsthand the benefits of possessing a strong background in both engineering and business. After picking up technical skills and an engineering discipline by serving in the U.S. Army during WWII, Hoeft pursued a degree in finance at the University of Illinois. Once at Ziegler, those earlier experiences made him aware of two things: first, his unique skill set gave him a competitive advantage that led him to roles as the dealership’s president and CEO; and second, the employees he hired at the time were mostly trained in only one area of study. Hoeft saw an education gap that needed to be filled.

Ed Ewald, Executive Vice President of the University of Illinois Foundation, who helped structure Leonard and Mary Lou Hoeft’s gift from a philanthropic standpoint, remembers Leonard Hoeft’s vision after meeting him in 1994.

“He wanted to create a program where our engineering students would get some classroom, academic, and practical experience in business, and vice versa,” Ewald said, who acted as liaison between the two colleges. “When the students graduated, they would have this combination of business, engineering, and knowledge that would make them very marketable."

John Clarke, the T&M Program’s second director (2004-2008), credits Ewald for the Hoefts permanent endowment of the program in 2004 by fostering an ongoing engagement between the couple and T&M students. Janet Eakman, assistant director (2003-2005), also contributed by organizing photos of T&M students, which culminated in a photo book she sent to the Hoefts each year.

“It was really rewarding to see a donor so pleased with what we had done with their initial gift,” Clarke said, who occasionally visited the Hoefts with Ewald and students during tours of Ziegler CAT’s facilities.


Solid foundation leads to lasting connections

The program’s established foundation has guided past and present directors to build on each successful endeavor, keeping the T&M Program at the front edge of innovation.

“Leonard’s original vision hasn’t changed,” Clarke said. “We need people who have strong, technical and business competences. This intersection between two broad disciplines, and providing individuals with capabilities on both sides, is essential to students in both colleges.”

Clarke’s successor, Darcy Sementi (2008-2013), believes diversity of thought between T&M students helps give them an advantage when they enter corporate life.

“Everyone from a corporate America perspective values diversity, and they talk about how diverse experiences bring together better solutions,” Sementi said, who received her MBA from Gies College of Business in 2000. “That is exactly what you experience as an undergrad when you’re in this program; when you bring together the business and engineering students.”

Sementi, whose daughter, Emma Sementi (B.S. ’20, Agricultural and Biological Engineering) earned a minor from the T&M Program last spring, uses the aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” when describing how the high-caliber of students bring out the best in each other while working together.

“It really builds a solid foundation; they’re always going to seek out the best and brightest people to surround themselves with, and they’re going to see it as a learning opportunity that is to the betterment of themselves, “Sementi said. “It creates a platform for continuous learners, who will always be making any environment that they come into better than how they found it.”

T&M Program stays cutting-edge with more opportunities for student growth

Current leaders, Director John Quarton (B.S. '87, Electrical Engineering) and Associate Director Ilalee Harrison James (MBA '21, Business Data Analytics), are taking T&M to the next level while applying the program’s guiding principles.

Quarton, who helped grow the T&M Program from 53 students per class on his arrival to, more recently, a class average of 66 students, shared the core values instilled in students: leadership, commitment, motivation, resilience, curiosity, passion, and open-mindedness.

“The program attracts students who already possess a number of these values and offers opportunities to hone those skills to best prepare students to be leaders of the innovation economy,” Quarton said.

The students’ opportunities to become leaders within the T&M Program are almost endless as Quarton and Harrison James oversee professional development outings, like corporate site visits and cultural immersion trips. Professional engagement closer to home is equally important through co-curricular activities like tech talks, coffee chats, and networking dinners that bring corporate sponsors and alumni to campus.

A mentor-mentee matching program also guides students to the right path as they receive expert advice and support from former T&M students. Members of Class XXVI were virtually matched with their mentors this summer, with help from the T&M Student Board. The mentorship supports a major focus of the T&M program, which is building relationships.

"Students and alumni feedback always includes working in teams with some of the most talented business and engineering majors as being one of the most valuable outcomes of the program," Harrison James said. "Keeping this in mind was central in the shift to a participant-led, team-oriented approach when pivoting online this summer."

Harrison James credits Megan Glaeser, the T&M Student Board President, in helping her roll out summer programming "after we learned a large portion of students and 2020 graduates' career plans were interrupted by the COVID-10  pandemic."

"Alumni volunteered to coach technical skills development groups and delivered a series of  soft skills workshops as well," Harrison James said. "Over 100 students benefited, and that is their alumni giving back because of the value they place in the program and the relationships they've built because of it." 

For Harrison James, the ability to turn initial setbacks into potential gains will be useful to students when they face inevitable challenges down the road.  

"The hope is that students, by experiencing this type of distraction and rising to the occasion, are equipped with new types of tools in their belt that they can bring into their future academic and professional teams," Harrison James said.

For Quarton, the milestone anniversary is a time to recognize everyone who has been involved with the program’s successful partnership at the university and remembering the Hoefts who made it all possible.

“As an alum of the University of Illinois, words can’t describe how much of an honor it has been to have been directly associated with The Hoeft Technology & Management Program for roughly half of its 25-year existence, serving on the corporate and academic sides of this corporate-university partnership as a sponsor for five years and program director for seven-plus years,” Quarton said. “Over that span of time, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to get to know and interact with nearly 900 incredible students, who have either completed or are in the process of completing the program, and many of the finest faculty members and administrators at the university. I’m humbled to be part of a team that strives every day to achieve the dreams of Leonard and Mary Lou Hoeft and their hopes and aspirations for students and alumni who benefit from their generosity, kindness, and passion for Illinois.”

Considering Applying?

Learn about the selection process

Want to hear from students? 

Check out the T&M Student blog