Dan Mast to retire after 26 years at ECE ILLINOIS
Meg Dickinson, ECE ILLINOIS
- Dan Mast has been around the department since he was young, when he'd accompany his father, Professor Emeritus Edward Mast, and spent time in labs at Everitt. Dan Mast is also an alumnus (BSEE '84).
- Mast is proud of updates to equipment the department provides for students in its labs, its implementation of electronic door locks to allow them more access, and the way ECE supports them as they explore their passions in the fields of electrical and computer engineering.
- After retirement, Mast is planning several trips around the country, and he will start working for ECE as an academic hourly in July, just in time for the move into the new building.
Dan Mast has worked at ECE ILLINOIS for 26 years, amassing a knowledge of the equipment, the programs, and especially the people who make the department what it is. He will retire April 30.
“He’s like the oil and Everitt’s this big machine that wouldn’t run without him,” she said, and he’s earned the respect of everyone he’s encountered.
Mast has been around the department since he was young, when he’d accompany his father, Professor Emeritus Edward Mast, and spent time in labs at Everitt. Dan Mast is also an alumnus (BSEE ’84), as are two of his brothers.
His first university job was in the distance education classrooms at Illinois’ Office of Instructional Resources, and his first job in ECE was working as extra help in Everitt’s electronics shop. Following that, he was hired into his current position as manager of systems and services.
Mast is proud of updates to equipment the department provides for students in its labs, its implementation of electronic door locks to allow them more access, and the way ECE supports them as they explore their passions in the fields of electrical and computer engineering.
He has an extensive network of alumni and others he’s met while working at the university. Parikh, who studies computer engineering, said she’s heard an anecdote about recruiters asking students interested in hardware if they knew Mast.
“If they didn’t, the students weren’t ready for a hardware career,” Parikh said, laughing.
She said Mast is especially beloved by students involved in Engineering Open House and the AMD Jerry Sanders Creative Design Competition. Mast has been the competition’s adviser for 15 years, and he introduced the idea of creating a modular competition floor that could be stored the rest of the year. That way, students didn’t have to start making it from scratch each year.
Mast is also proud of his work to help the department create one-, five-, and 10-year goals for equipment, and making sure all equipment in labs is consistent. He’s also worked to provide a variety of models, made by a variety of manufacturers, so students can learn them while still in school. This helps when they’re starting their careers, Mast said.
“I've tried to provide the resources for the students to investigate whatever it is they want to learn and the opportunities to go in any direction they want to go,” Mast said.
Students should also thank Mast when they’re working in labs at 3 a.m. He advocated for allowing electronic access for students, even amidst fears of stolen or ruined lab equipment.
“It’s a standard practice worldwide, but we were one of the first to do that,” Mast said.
Once ECE tried it, Mast found more access resulted in less damaged equipment, because students didn’t have to rush to finish during limited time in the lab. Additionally, advanced students were able to come back to the lab and investigate more on their own.
But Mast’s contributions to campus aren’t limited to those involving electrical and computer engineers.
He’s also worked with Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) to figure out how to allow elevators to be remote-controlled by those who use wheelchairs. It took about 10 years because elevator manufacturers aren’t exactly forthcoming with information about their products. The technology is now in 20 elevators on campus.
Mast said he’s heard it’s as important for people with disabilities as curb cutouts on sidewalks. The best part of that project: “Just seeing their faces when they realize they’re going to be able to use (the remote control),” Mast said.
In his first job at Illinois, he also made contributions to the world of educational technology. While working in the university’s distance education classrooms, he worked on chalkboards that could detect where teachers were writing. That information was then transferred through phone lines and displayed on TV screens.
But as personal computers gained popularity, Mast worked on the problem of how to project images from their screens in a way that could also be seen on televisions.
“There was nothing you could buy to do that,” Mast said.
After retirement, Mast is planning several trips around the country, and he will start working for ECE as an academic hourly in July, just in time for the move into the new building.
Mast said of all his experiences, he’s enjoyed working with students, who then become alums, but don’t forget him or the department.
ECE Associate Professor P. Scott Carney said he’s gotten to know Mast while teaching the department’s senior design course.
“The electronics shop really makes that course go,” Carney said, adding that Mast and the others who work in the shop provide far more than they’re required to help students succeed in the course.
“They provide a tremendous amount of advice to students, and help in times of crisis, this calming reassurance,” Carney said. “Our
“Dan has provided a lot of that himself and provided the culture and atmosphere and hired the people who will do anything it takes to help our students,” he said.
ECE Professor Peter W Sauer remembers having Mast in a lab class in the basement of Everitt Lab, and that Mast had a knack for the equipment.
“He had a good physical feel for working with things,” Sauer said.
Then, when Mast started working professionally in the department, Sauer found that Mast was always willing to hire Sauer’s students in the electronics shop, where they’d inevitably be trained on how to make and repair equipment, about soldering and basic electronics.
“He has to manage them and their time sheets and train them, and teach them what to do,” Sauer said. “I can’t think of too many people who would take the time to do that.”
“He cares deeply about what students need, and that’s his priority,” Smith said. Mast is also the kind of person who listens carefully and doesn’t get excited when things don’t go exactly as planned. He’s also known throughout the department for helping whomever needs it.
“He solves a lot of people’s problems,” Smith said.