First Class Engineering: David Vandervoet BSEE '67

Thursday, January 12, 2017

David Vandervoet graduated as an electrical engineering major in 1967 and was part of the first class ever to go through UCSB College of Engineering from freshman to senior year. After graduating, Vandervoet began his career designing and launching major US satellites. He took some time to share his stories about the College in its early years, reflecting on the great community, protests, pranks, and how things have evolved in the last 50 years.

How many students were in the College of Engineering at the time and what was the community like?  
Not sure but I would guess maybe 80-100. I was the first class to go through engineering from freshman to senior. Maybe there were 30 freshmen in my class.

What was student life at the College like in the 1960’s?
It started in the Arts Building and classes were small. We knew our professors very well.
There were also a lot of protests, mostly by non-students in Isla Vista, and multiple police actions with protestors stopping us from getting to class.

What are some of the best memories you had while as a student?
Getting up the courage as a freshman to go into Dean Conrad’s office in the Arts building and meet him. I figured that I was paying part of his salary and he should know who I was. The meeting went very well. He was gruff but said he wished more students would come see him.
Dean C later invited me to his house to show me how he made violins. He imported very special wood from somewhere in Europe. He dried the wood for two years in some drying equipment that he made. He had very fine hand tools to do custom work in the violins. But what impressed me the most was that he would use an oscilloscope to tune them. He was still an engineer at heart.

Who was/were your mentor(s) as a student and how did they affect your life?
Dr. Heidbreder and Dr. Mattai. I learned theoretical communication theory from Dr. Heidbreder that got me started in the satellite business.

Is there something that happened when you went to COE that current students would have a hard time believing? 
I climbed the outside bricks to the 5th floor on the end of the engineering building and taped a large sign that said “Welcome to Earl Hall” (our lab technician). Earl was a survivor of Pearl Harbor bombing and lived because he went to sleep Saturday night with his shoes on and could run across the burning deck of his ship on December 7 and dive into the water because of his shoes. He still wore his shoes to bed in the 1960s.
Dean Conrad was annoyed but no one was brave enough to climb the bricks and take it down.

Thank you, David!


David Vandervoet's student photo taken in the 60s