Distinguished alumna shares inspirational life story


On Monday in the Hemisphere Room of Hale library, Michelle Munson gave her lecture, “I Was You,” for the 2013 Ernest Fox Nichols Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series. The lecture covered an array of Munson’s life, education and career experiences, which ultimately led to her founding of her 10-year-old business, Aspera. Munson has a passion and love for what she does, and gave inspiring words to students that resonated within the distinguished physics alumni and audience members.

Munson graduated from K-State in 1996 with a degree in electrical engineering and physics.

“While at K-State I was told by [my professor] that I was good,” Munson said. “That stuck with me.”

Munson went on to say that while she was completing around 200 credit hours in her four to five years at K-State, she stayed involved and active. During Munson’s time at K-State she was involved in independent study, ran for student body vice-president, danced ballet, won two essay contests and a public speaking contest, and was upset when she got a B on an exam.

“I went into my professor and said, ‘I’m really sorry. I know I can do better than this.’ He said, ‘I’ve seen what’s been going on with this election; you’re busy. You are good at [physics],'” Munson said.

Munson further described her hectic schedule as a student and said to the students in the room that the work they would do during junior and senior year is the “hardest thing you will ever have to do … but that’s what you’ll be during for the rest of your life.”

The words of advice spoke to Luke Snider, senior in food science.

“Independent study and incremental accomplishments were two lessons I took away from her,” Snider said. “As a student, it’s critical that I seek to master my studies and am content with the preparation stage I am in at KSU.”

Munson’s accomplishments, intelligence and pure grit led her to winning the Fulbright scholarship to earn her master’s at University of Cambridge in England, where she studied computer science in the pursuit to understand the upcoming dawning of the web.

After turning down a Ph.D., opportunity with Cambridge, Munson went to California to work for several research centers. She said she was disappointed by the lack of managerial skills and eventually took what she had learned to co-found Aspera with the man who she would later marry, Serban Simu.

Aspera is a software technology company that is innovating new data transfer solutions and works with clients such as Amazon, Netflix and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Munson’s success stood out to K-State faculty in the room.

“She came here as a kid from Kansas with a lot of motivation, not sure what she wanted to do,” Peter Dorhout, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and chemistry professor, said. “But by being here and meeting with professors she developed early connections. I really liked how she said the faculty made a difference. She was finding balance not only in her classes but in everything else she was involved in. She found it here and that’s really inspirational.”

According to its website, Aspera serves over 2,000 customers with over 16,000 active software licenses being used worldwide. The company also has a 50 percent year over year growth and has sold over $120 million of software and services. The 165-person staff working for the company bring in about $35 million a year in sales and recently won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development.

Munson’s well-roundness and diversity are attributed to helping lead to her success, as well as the lecture.

“Munson is remarkable, this is why I invited her,” Amit Chakrabarti, professor and head of the Department of Physics, said. “This culture is important. [Students should know that] all things matter. You can be a great scientist, but if you are bad at communicating, no one knows what you are saying. When potential students come to visit, our task is to tell what we do in a way they can understand. Communication is important.”

The take-home message Munson left the room of inspiring minds with was to first lead with cold blooded facts, and then act with one’s heart. She emphasized the difficulty of the engineering and physics field, but explained that that is why she does what she does and that’s what makes it all worth it.

“I work 80-90 hours a week,” she said. “Do I count the hours? No. Do I enjoy what I do? Of course I do. Would I do anything else? Never.”