Field report … Mark Scheuer: Engineering an American dream

Posted on 22. Jun, 2011 by in Academic Departments, Alumni, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Issues, Magazine, People

Mark Scheuer (BSECE ’82) has turned a lifelong fascination with electronics into a dream company building audio control systems for the aerospace industry. Yet, it was hardly a straight path from tinkering in his grandfather’s basement workshop to a degree in electrical engineering. Scheuer is sharing his story of overcoming academic challenges in the hopes it will encourage young people in similar circumstances to follow their dreams.

Mark Scheuer.

Mark Scheuer. Submitted photo.

In 1968, I was in my grandfather’s basement with my cousin when he showed me what happens when a wire is wound around a nail and connected to a battery. At 10 years old, I was fascinated by electricity. In 1972, I became an amateur radio operator and built radios and transmitters as I attended high school in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. By my junior year, I realized that while I was mastering my electronic skills, I was failing miserably in acquiring the knowledge to be college material! Even when I received our high school’s ‘Most Improved Student of the Year’ award, I didn’t qualify to go to college.

So, I attended a local technical school for an associate of science degree in electronics technology and found that achieving good grades was just applying good studying habits and discipline. After the first year of straight A’s, I thought I was ready to attend college. I applied to UW-Madison but was denied admission (understandably) due to my poor high school grades. But thanks to the electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department secretary, I was encouraged to apply to a smaller UW campus and consider transferring later. I attended UW-Stout and demonstrated that I was capable of doing well in academics. After my freshman year, I once again applied to UW-Madison—and this time the department chair accepted my application.

Before I could attend, I needed money for tuition. The next nine months I learned what it meant to feed assemblers on an assembly line where we were paid by the piece. It was physically demanding work, but after all, I did want to get my electrical engineering degree. I enrolled in the ECE department in 1978.

Even with my factory earnings and a student loan I still needed income for living expenses. There was a posting for an ECE graduate assistant position. I found out that it was at the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) working with a satellite receiver system. Perfect! Thanks to the support of now-emeritus ECE Professor James Beyer, the graduate assistant position was changed to undergraduate assistant, and I got the job.

This was the opportunity of a lifetime. I worked side by side with a group of engineers and scientists who provided a tremendous amount of knowledge in both theory and practical application of electronics. SSEC lead electrical engineer Scott Ellington, my supervisor and mentor, gave me a great deal of flexibility on how to solve specific problems encountered when trying to receive the small signals from the polar orbiting weather satellite, TIROS-N.

Because of this experience, my grades and written recommendations by several of my professors, in 1980 I was hired as a summer intern with Hewlett-Packard (HP) in Santa Rosa, California, I worked on the HP8510 Time Domain Network Analyzer, which at the time, was an incredibly accurate instrument. The following summer I interned at the Rolling Meadows HP sales office writing demonstration software for field applications. And before the end of my senior year, I was offered my dream job at HP. So in 1983, I went to work for arguably the most innovative electronics manufacturing company of all time.

By 1984 I had saved enough money to purchase another dream, a well-traveled airplane. Among other things, the airplane needed an intercom. When I researched the intercom market, none of the existing systems met my requirements. So a friend and I designed and constructed an intercom that would set new standards for general aviation intercom systems. We founded PS Engineering in 1985.

While working full-time at HP, getting my own company off the ground, and starting a family, something had to give. While I admired and respected the ethos of Hewlett-Packard and my fellow employees, in 1994 I left my dream job to run my business full time. Leaving a secure and rewarding job was difficult but it proved to be a good move. The enjoyment of creating products and seeing them being used in all sorts of applications is extremely rewarding. The last 25 years have given me the opportunity to build a company that I’m sure even Bill and Dave (Hewlett Packard founders) would be proud of.

PS Engineering has worked tirelessly to innovate, patent, and build many quality avionics that place us as the leading manufacturer of aircraft audio control systems. Our products have been used in such unique places as the U.S. naval warfare department; vintage WWII aircraft, including P-51, B-17, B-29; and even in spaceships known as SpaceshipOne. We are scheduled to blast off again in the foreseeable future with SpaceShipTwo.

I’m looking forward to what awaits my company for the next 25 years. I have a loving, beautiful and supportive wife, and I have children that make me so very proud to be a father. And one more thing I know for sure: The education, support, and opportunities that the UW-Madison had given me as an undergraduate have been the basis for a career in electronics that I could never have imagined when I was in my grandfather’s basement.”

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