David Ira Epstein: 2021 Distinguished Achievement Award recipient

// Electrical & Computer Engineering

Photo of David Ira EpsteinDavid Ira Epstein (BSECE ’76, MSECE ’78)
Executive Director, Susilo Institute for Ethics in a Global Economy, Boston University; venture advisor, investor and management consultant, Epstein Advisors

We are honoring David as an exemplary entrepreneur and executive in cleantech, semiconductors and healthcare who has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to social responsibility and ethics in engineering and business.

Why did you choose engineering?

Canal Street in New York City had all the surplus electronics stores. I used to love to pick up whatever I found and see what I could make. I always liked trying to fix things. In high school, in computing, I learned data processing on key punch machines, Teletypes and IBM accounting machines. We programmed using plugboards to connect circuits. In my last year, I learned Basic programming, wrote a program to compose music, another to solve a Rubik’s Cube, and spent countless hours on other fun puzzles.

Who has played an important role in shaping your career?

My parents, who worked night and day to make ends meet. But even in tough times, they made sure their work obligations were fulfilled and took whatever time they could find to spend with the family. My wife, Sarah, who’s also a UW grad, enabled me to take on assignments, work long hours and make cross-country and international moves with her support. Her matter-of-fact style and keeping emotions in proper perspective equipped me with tools that helped me deal with difficult situations and make better decisions. Throughout my career, there have been many others who influenced me and mentored me, pushing me toward new heights. In every job, there were those who I could learn from, regardless of the formal organizational structure.

What advice would you give students today?

Find at least one course every semester that you really love, and in a subject you want to learn more about. Dive into it. Find the joy and fun in it. And make sure you get away from engineering at times during the semester and do something different, like music, the arts, an unrelated science topic or even basket weaving.

If you had to do it all over, would you do electrical engineering again?

I loved what I did. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I did go back to school to study business and ethics. Engineers and business leaders affect a lot of people, and they can do harm if they don’t think through some of their projects’ consequences, decisions, directions or leadership. Going back to school also made me appreciate that there’s just so much I’d love to learn. Since doing that, I’ve discovered the fun of continuing education, where you don’t have to worry about your grades. You’re just going for the joy of learning, and joy of listening. But the underpinning of my thought process and approach to the world, my career and my life will always be the engineer in me. I am, and always will be, an engineer at heart.

Anybody to mention?

My wife, Sarah, is a graduate of UW. She’s an Aggie, a social worker and a test cook. My older daughter Shaina is a professional in social media and marketing data analytics, and my daughter Hannah is doing a postdoc in coral reef ecology and microbiology at Oregon State.

Author: Staff