Re-engaging the pride of 'lost Owls'

Marylauren Ilagan '04 aims to support alumni, continue DEI momentum and maximize impact as REA president.

Marylauren Ilagan

As president of the Rice Engineering Alumni, Marylauren Ilagan sees one of her chief missions as re-engaging “lost Engineering Owls” and reinvigorating their pride in the school.

In that way, she hopes to keep the momentum of REA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce rolling, and maximize the impact of the REA Summer Engineering Experience Program. 

“In recent years we’ve made enormous progress in working with current students through mentoring, providing merit awards and grants, and creating opportunities for internships,” said Ilagan, who took office July 1. “But, our REA mission is to ‘support, honor and connect Rice engineers before and after graduation.’ That’s an opportunity the REA is uniquely positioned to provide.”

Ilagan earned her B.S. in mechanical engineering (MECH) from Rice in 2004, and four years later her law degree from the University of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce School of Law. She has combined her engineering and legal training to become an attorney specializing in intellectual property law.

Ilagan’s parents emigrated in 1969 from the Philippines and settled in Cooper City, Fla. Her father is a CPA and her mother worked as a medical technologist. As a girl she showed signs of a future in engineering. Among her earliest memories is taking apart a VCR and trying (unsuccessfully) to reassemble it. 

She was accepted by several universities but chose Rice because it is in the South (“It’s warm”), she had family in Houston, and because Rice had a reputation for academic rigor. She chose MECH thanks to the influence of three faculty members: Marcia O’Malley, the Thomas Michael Panos Family Professor in MECH; the late Alan Chapman, who taught at Rice for a record 60 years; and David McStravick, now retired.

“I loved mechanical engineering. I wanted to design machines and my dream was to work someday for Walt Disney Imagineering,” said Ilagan, who describes herself on her C.V. as a “Disney theme park aficionado.” An internship while she studied at Rice exposed her for the first time to patent law. 

“I was intrigued by how engineers were so proud of their patents that they hung up their plaques in the office to show them off,” she said. 

Part of patent law’s appeal was her preference for “application-based learning,” as opposed to pure theory. Rather than abstract concepts, Ilagan concentrates on the way such concepts have an impact on the real world and how patent law protects those innovations.

While in law school, Ilagan had externships in which she worked directly with inventors to understand their technology, and drafted and filed patent applications to protect their innovations before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “That was a great training experience,” she said, “and helped me transition into being a practicing attorney.”

After earning her J.D., Ilagan joined the Houston law firm of Novak Druce + Quigg (now Polsinelli P.C.) as a patent attorney. “They concentrated on intellectual property,” Ilagan said. “I spent more than four years there drafting patent applications related to electrical arts -- computer software, internet-based services, and mobile apps -- and prosecuting them to issuance.” 

In 2012, she joined the cosmetic manufacturer Mary Kay and became the company’s director and head of intellectual property. Ilagan was responsible for the company’s portfolio of more than 10,000 IP assets, managed an international network of outside counsel in more than 100 countries, and enforced Mary Kay’s brands online and offline. 

Last December, she joined Olaplex, a newly public hair care manufacturer, with sales in more than 150 countries. 

 “I’m still working with scientists and engineers,” Ilagan said. “Thanks to my engineering background, I’m able to speak with these people and understand what they are doing so I can effectively translate their inventions and ideas into protectable and valuable intellectual property. The law is all about logic and engineering is also all about logic. It was a natural transition from engineering to law.”

Ilagan became involved again with Rice, first with the Rice Alumni Volunteers for Admissions in 2012. She served on the REA board of directors, as chair of its sponsorship committee and as secretary before her election as president. 

“The REA membership has an enormous network of connections,” she said. “Let’s use it. Let’s find those lost Owls and bring them back to honor and support them and to connect them with other Owls, both current and future alumni.”