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Engineering faculty driven by Naval pasts lead future engineering generations

Paths to the military take many forms; for some it begins as a desire to serve or an opportunity for an access to higher education. Others join the military to follow in the footsteps of family members. For College of Engineering (COEN) faculty members Thad Welch and David Estrada, the Navy provided all of those opportunities for their careers, and more.

The Navy offered Welch and Estrada many intangible opportunities to dive deeper into technical training such as shipboard missile defense systems and nuclear reactors. These opportunities paved the way for award-winning research explored through the Boise State College of Engineering.

“I felt proud to join the military,” said associate professor Estrada. “I was the first in my family to do so, and I viewed it as a way to serve my country while gaining a path towards higher education.”

Estrada served in the U.S. Navy from 1998 to 2004 where he was an Electronics Warfare/Cryptologic Technician. Estrada served aboard the USS Curtis Wilbur stationed out of Yokosuka, Japan. The USS Curtis Wilbur provided support to the USS Kittyhawk Battle Group and U.S. Army Rangers in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks of 2001, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Boise State University, specifically COEN, also played an important role for Estrada. Upon his honorable discharge from the Navy, he began pursuing his undergraduate degree at Boise State University. As a McNair scholar, Estrada completed his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in May 2007.

Estrada was awarded both his master of science in electrical engineering and doctor of philosophy in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before he returned to Boise State in 2013, when he joined the now Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering (MSMSE).

“Almost everything I did in the Navy has been instrumental to my success in school and as a faculty member,” said Estrada. “I feel tremendous pride and satisfaction in being a Boise State COEN alumni and faculty member.”

Three generations of Welch service members featuring Thad Welch on far right.

Professor Welch was commissioned into the Navy in 1979 where he was assigned to three submarines and a submarine repair tender. His assignment to submarines came from a passion in math and physics which led to an interest in nuclear power submarines and the need for engineers.

Welch’s military service career spanned 28 years where he spent time across the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Half of his service expanded into the classroom where Welch began teaching at both the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy.

“There’s life after military service,” said inaugural Signal Processing Education Network (SPEN) fellow Welch. “I had taught all of my 28 years in the Navy. [This provided] an opportunity to get students as excited about engineering as I am.”

Welch’s teaching led him to Boise State in 2007 where he joined the electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department as a professor and former chair (2007-2010).

“Engineering is more than just solving math problems,” Welch said. “Engineers solve the world’s problems. Who wouldn’t want to help do that?”

Estrada and Welch now shape future generations of COEN scholars by providing robust research opportunities to undergraduate and graduate engineering students in the ECE and MSMSE departments, as well as the Biomedical Engineering PhD program.

The pair served a combined 34 years in the U.S. Navy where they reached the ranks of Petty Officer First Class and Commander, respectively. Both Estrada and Welch were awarded numerous achievement, service, and expeditionary medals during their service.

-By Jamie Fink