2021 Tillman Scholar

Mia Leigh Renna

University of Illinois

“Natural disasters can affect anyone at any time. I want to engineer innovative solutions to protect all people, no matter their background, against all future extreme events facing society.”

Despite childhood financial hardships, Mia Leigh Renna was able to pursue her degree in civil engineering and discover her passion for global development through military service. Quickly following her 18th birthday, Mia enlisted into the South Carolina Army National Guard as a heavy equipment operator. While serving in the national guard, Mia completed her bachelor’s degree in three years from Clemson University.

After graduation, Mia commissioned as an active-duty engineer officer and worked within the Army’s engineering regiment and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on natural disaster recovery operations including Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Florence, and mudslides in Vermont. During these missions, Mia recognized the prohibitive amount of money it costs to assist those in need. Despite having the highest GDP in the world, the United States still struggles to maintain its infrastructure. Due to the inability to afford preventative measures in lower income communities, the devastation following a natural disaster is further compounded.

This conundrum ignited Mia’s new-found professional purpose: to advance sustainable and resilient techniques for designing, constructing, and repairing community infrastructure to best protect against natural disasters. As a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois, Mia hopes to lead the way for more women, those from families with financial hardships, and disabled military veterans to join her to build and grow sustainable communities that are resilient to the increasing threat of climate change.