The UW Department of Electrical Engineering (UW EE) strengthened its legacy as an entrepreneurial hub with a generous gift from UW EE alum Milton “Milt” Zeutschel (BSEE ’60) and UW College of Education alum Delia Zeutschel (BA ’58). The initial endowment supports the growth of the department’s Engineering Entrepreneurial Capstone program (ENGINE), enabling current and future UW EE students to engage in real-world industry partnerships and giving local companies an opportunity to benefit from the vibrant innovation culture at UW EE. A component of the endowment also establishes the Milton and Delia Zeutschel Professorship in Entrepreneurial Excellence. This professorship supports the department in recruiting and retaining entrepreneurially-driven faculty, who will help build and sustain an engineering entrepreneurial ecosystem at the UW.
For Milt Zeutschel, who built his personal success from independence and drive on a farm in rural North Dakota, entrepreneurship was just a part of the journey. He paid for his electrical engineering education with the GI Bill stipend he received for his service in the U.S. Navy. He was the first member of his family to graduate from high school. He continued to push forward, being the first of his family to attend college.
An education at UW EE proved a fruitful step along the journey, providing Mr. Zeutschel with the technical skills to become an entrepreneur. The apt combination of education and personal discipline propelled Mr. Zeutschel to start from the ground up. Over the course of his career, he founded five companies, three of which – Zetec, Data I/O Corp. and Zetron, Inc – were met with resounding success.
His first company, Zetec, developed non-destructive testing equipment and offered testing services to the nuclear power industry. His last company he founded, Zetron, makes Mr. Zeutschel most proud. Zetron produces 911-emergency dispatch equipment, particularly radio and telephone communications infrastructure. For Mr. Zeutschel, all of the real-world experiences – from farm to company – led him to a successful career, something he believes is a valuable experience to all engineering students.
“Engineering students need to be able to think of the big picture,” Zeutschel said. “Having a program that gives them an opportunity to connect early on with industry professionals gives them important lessons in not only entrepreneurship, but in working in the real world.”
The ENGINE program, which was rolled out in Spring 2016, offers students the mentorship of engineering professionals. Students work on industry-sponsored projects, developing their skills in innovation, systems engineering, project management and project development. For Mr. Zeutschel, a program of this caliber lends to real-world readiness, an advantage often not available in standard electrical engineering curricula.
“Over the years, I learned a lot of what to do and what not do to run a company,” Mr. Zeutschel said. “A lot of new engineers think that solid engineering sells a company. But it’s more than that. To be successful, you need to create a product that sells to the customer and that the customer is willing to pay for. Having interactions early on in your education about all that it takes is key.”
Since 2016, the ENGINE program has already seen significant growth from interested students and local companies. In its second year, more than 50 percent of the UW EE undergraduate graduating class is enrolled in the program. Students work on cutting-edge projects, including drone radar, transit apps, space communications and clean energy.
“We are very grateful to Milt and Delia for their generous contributions to our students,” said UW EE Professor and Chair Radha Poovendran. “The graduates of the UW EE ENGINE program will make a positive impact that will have a ripple effect throughout the entire State of Washington.”
Graduates’ ENGINE knowledge will guide them while seeking entrepreneurial endeavors and industry employment, fostering economic opportunity and energizing innovation throughout the state.
As an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, there could be no better partner to ENGINE than Mr. Zeutschel. From the beginning, he has invested his resources into ENGINE, a program he says would have greatly benefited him while in college. Mr. Zeutschel’s commitment to the program will endure.
“I want to continue to engage in the program every way I can,” Mr. Zeutschel said. “I would love to be a resource for students and professors.”
For both Zeutschels, the UW provided a valuable educational experience that followed them throughout their careers. For Delia Zeutschel, her time studying at the UW College of Education laid the foundation for her work as a teacher. Mrs. Zeutschel sought to promote inclusivity and provide other students with this rewarding foundation, giving to both the Haring Center in the UW College of Education and to the Instructional Center in the UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity.
The Haring Center is an integrated early childhood program, which is dedicated to improving the lives of children with developmental disabilities and other special needs. The Instructional Center promotes the academic achievement, retention and successful graduation of under-represented minority, first-generation college and economically disadvantaged students.
For Mrs. Zeutschel, promoting and sharing education is a passion. Her vision transcends the walls of academia, touching all lives. From an educational standpoint, the ENGINE program supports this concept, including student and community participation. From a personal perspective, the ENGINE program honors her husband’s legacy of hard work and dedication.
“Endowing the ENGINE program was important to me as a witness to Milt’s achievements,” Mrs. Zeutschel said. “I’ve had the joy of seeing him work hard and find success. Inviting others into this process is very special to me.”