LATI grad, Daktronics employee earns engineering degree at SDSU

By: SDSU Marketing & Communications

David Ulschmid
David Ulschmid graduated from Lake Area Technical Institute and later earned a bachelor’s degree from South Dakota State.

As a child, David Ulschmid enjoyed taking apart old electronics.

“I’m sure this happened for many kids. The TV breaks, so their parents unplug it and give it to the kid, let him wreck it more,” he said.

Those experiences led the Henry native to take two years of electronics classes with the Lake Area Multi-District School and then pursue an associate degree at Lake Area Technical Institute. The 2001 LATI graduate was working at Daktronics when the thought of earning a bachelor’s degree took hold.

“It was always something I wanted to do, and the LATI to SDSU articulation agreement made it a temping option.” he said, noting several things took place in 2013 that got the idea off the ground. “The distance education options at SDSU were really important to me because I was trying to balance my family life, a full-time job and going to school. And the tuition reimbursement offered by Daktronics meant that if I got good grades, I would be reimbursed for my education expenses.

“The final push around 2013 was that my interest was in the quality organization at Daktronics,” Ulschmid continued. “As a printed circuit board designer, I was brought on to a problem-solving team as a subject-matter expert. I was really impressed by the work they were doing, and I wanted to join their team. I applied for but was denied a quality engineer position. They wanted someone with a bachelor’s degree to work in those roles, so off to SDSU I went.”

Ulschmid, who graduated magna cum laude in spring 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering technology, used a combination of online and on-campus classes.

“I got a study plan from my adviser and broke that out into classes you have to be on campus for and which classes were available online. My goal was to have no more than two on-campus classes and at least one online class per semester,” he said. “I’m grateful Daktronics was flexible enough with my work schedule that I could leave midday to go to classes and come back to finish work. When I’d go home after work, I’d work on the online class or classes. Being able to structure it like that, where it was close to 50-50 between online and on-campus, was key and enabled me to pursue it. If I would have been required to be on campus for every class, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Before starting at SDState, the quality engineer talked to several of the many Jackrabbits who are employed at Daktronics. He also talked to others about his goal of earning a bachelor’s degree.

“I was pretty sure I wanted to be in the quality role when I started taking classes in 2013, but as a gut check for myself, I researched the Daktronics job board and found three or four jobs I thought I’d want to do after graduating,” he said. “I then contacted the person responsible for that job and sat down with them and said, ‘listen, I’m going back to school, this job might be something I want to do after I graduate, so tell me what I should focus on during my educational experience to become a candidate for this position.’ I got some really good feedback from those supervisors as well as others who were working in those jobs already.

“When I became a circuit board designer in 2003, having a bachelor’s wasn’t a requirement, but it is now. I felt that without a plan for continuing my education, there was only so much I can contribute to both the development process and to problem-solving in general. There is a quote that encourages me to keep learning. It says ‘As long as you’re green, you’re growing. As soon as you’re ripe, you start to rot.’”

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