When David Wolfe walks down the hill on May 16, it will mark the successful completion of a circuitous journey. The life-long Jayhawk fan and native Lawrencian entered KU aspiring for a degree in computer science. After being laid off from his job, which along with financial aid, enabled Wolfe to attend KU, he made the difficult decision to leave KU and take another job answering phones at a student financial aid help center. It was considered a temporary move that would allow him to save money and return to KU with a financial safety net. One year turned into two and then into three. After four years with Vangent (formerly NCS Pearson), he could go no higher in the company without a degree.
He returned to KU as a part-time student, but inching his way toward a computer science degree was soon not enough. Wolfe and his wife, Asai, decided he should go back to school full-time in 2008. The soundness of that decision was validated when Microsoft offered Wolfe an internship, followed by a full-time position as a software development engineer. He starts at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, the week after graduation.
“I wasn’t all that focused when I started KU,” Wolfe says. “After I had to withdraw to work at a job that I did not enjoy, I came back 100 percent driven. That experience made me realize that I have to follow my passions. My main passion is computer science, so I jumped in and trusted that it would lead to great things. The job at Microsoft really is a dream come true.”
Computers have always fascinated Wolfe. He would take programs apart on his first Mac― bit by bit―changing everything he could to make them his own. He remembers being incredibly jealous of an elementary school classmate because he had a computer program that let him create games. That jealousy is long gone, but he credits his independent study of programming with helping him succeed in computer science. He had developed a good skill set that he could build upon at KU.
Wolfe stresses the importance of student internships. He tried not to take more than 15 hours each semester to give him time for an internship. After meeting representatives from Wheatland Systems at a School of Engineering Career Fair, Wolfe landed an internship with the Lawrence engineering firm. Wolfe’s duties include engineering several in-house applications as well as creating human machine interfaces used in industrial automation. The incredible flexibility that Wheatland offered helped Wolfe juggle school, work and life. When Microsoft came to KU in the fall of 2008, Wolfe connected with a recruiter. The Wheatland experience was pivotal in helping him land the summer internship at Microsoft and subsequent job. After returning from Redmond for his senior year, Wolfe resumed work at Wheatland.
“Internships make all the difference,” Wolfe says. “I was able to apply what I was learning and gain real-world experience. One internship opened the door to another and then to a future job.”
Wolfe has applied to graduate with Departmental Honors. To be eligible, students must maintain a minimum overall GPA of 3.25 and minimum engineering GPA of 3.5 as a full-time student and conduct an honors research project. Wolfe is refining and converting to Java an interactive educational tool used to teach fundamental concepts in geometric modeling, a technology critical for design, analysis and manufacturing. EECS Associate Professor Jim Miller is advising Wolfe on the project, which will enable students to access the tool over the Internet.
“Working with David has been a real pleasure. He is not only very dedicated, but extremely knowledgeable and resourceful. I hope Microsoft knows how lucky they are to get him.”