Matt Petersan Connecting the circuit: former transfer student finds his place
Growing up in Columbus bodes well for developing a spirit of adventure. Matt Petersan, B.S. EE '96, has called his early career path "riding the rocket," but it surprisingly led him back to a way of life he now values even more.
When he finished high school, Petersan wasn't sure what he wanted to do, but recalled, "My buddies were going to Southeast Community College in Milford, so I went there." He graduated in 1990 from SCC's Electronic Engineering Technician program.
Petersan then realized he wanted a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, "so I hit the reset button" and attended Central Community College in Columbus, where he received his associate's degree in applied sciences. His adviser, Norris Augustine, helped Petersan align himself for his intended next step. "About 90 percent of my credits—chemistry, physics, advanced calculus—transferred to UNL, so when I got to Lincoln, I was taking intra-departmental courses in electrical engineering."
UNL now has STEP, dedicated to helping transfer students succeed at UNL (see ). However, Petersan said his transition in the '90s "wasn't hard, once I knew what I wanted to do." As a nontraditional student, he didn't mind missing out on dorm life. "I was pretty much living with the same people in my classes over my two years at UNL!"
After getting his bachelor degree, Petersan got a job in the telecommunication industry, where business was booming. His first job was in Omaha, building fiber networks with the construction arm of MFS Network Technologies.
"My boss at that job was a good mentor," Petersan said. "I had eight jobs in my early career, but only one boss through the majority of all that." This boss convinced him to move to Denver in 1998 and work at Level 3 Communications. In that busy time of "high risk, high reward" with startup firms, Petersan was recruited to work for Enron Broadband Services, then Aerie Networks, intent on building another 20,000-mile nationwide fiber optic network. Aerie purchased the assets of Ricochet Networks from Metricom, which had spent more than $1 billion building out a network of wireless radios in major metropolitan cities. Petersan saw companies change hands multiple times and watched business plans change even more rapidly.
Despite volatility in Denver's telecommunication realm, Petersan said his timing was still lucky. "I was laid off from jobs and then I'd go skiing for a while--or mountain biking in the summer--and each time just when my severance pay ran out, I got hired for another job." But he started to think about alternatives.
He sent numerous resumes, and one went to a familiar address in Columbus. "My dad, now retired, had worked literally 'down the street' from our house, at Nebraska Public Power District." During those 32 years with NPPD, his father also started a family business with sprinkler installation and repairs during evenings and weekends.
For many years, Petersan thought he'd never go back to Columbus, but he realized that "working for a utility could be a good thing, and much more stable." The retirement age bubble ahead for many NPPD employees was another positive factor in Petersan's decision to join NPPD.
Petersan has taken on a project management role with NPPD, which he said is a great job for him because he gets to ask a favorite engineering question, "If we do this over here, what happens over there?" He's glad to still have a variety of work-but it's all for the same employer. And Petersan enjoys being in a place where he can demonstrate his ability to learn a job and apply that skill as his responsibilities evolve; a current focus for him is the economics of engineering, and Petersan said the entrepreneurial mindset of his prior jobs helps his current approaches.