Instilling a Passion that will Benefit Future Generations

"I was interested in computers at a very young age because of my father, who was on the early curve of VCRs and home computers.” 

That exposure to tech from Alan Durant instilled a passion in alumnus Dr. Eric Durant ’98 that would lead him down a fulfilling path at MSOE.

Durant grew up in Greenfield, Wisconsin and as he got older his interest in computers increased. He wanted to learn more about electronic product design and how to produce electronic/computer-based products. After hearing great things about MSOE from his godfather, a 1974 graduate, Durant enrolled as an electrical engineering major. He added a second major in business, then later switched to a second major in computer engineering with a minor in business.

Being a student in that field at the emergence of the information superhighway in the 1990s was especially cool. “I was involved with the early use of the internet at MSOE,” said Durant. Not only did Durant help with the maintenance of MSOE’s first website when it launched around early 1994, he played a role in moving the campus’s student newspaper Ingenium online.

After graduation Durant earned his master’s and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan and his Executive MBA at UW-Milwaukee. Today he is a professor and the director of the Master of Science in Machine Learning program at MSOE. “Our students are very enthusiastic to learn about their fields and to produce high quality work. They have a high intrinsic motivation that makes it a joy to work with them,” said Durant.

During the summer Durant also serves as a Senior DSP Research Engineer for Starkey Hearing Technologies in Minnesota, work that has helped him earn eight different U.S. patents related to improving hearing aid technology.

This unique expertise and his influence inside the classroom have also made a profound impact on the students he advises.

“When I was on the edge about changing majors, Dr. Durant spent extra time guiding me through the difficult process,” said Virginia Conaty, sophomore computer engineering major. “Dr. Durant laid out a detailed plan allowing me to still graduate in four years and answered any questions I had about switching.”

Throughout his career, Durant’s exemplary work has been recognized by his peers as a recipient of numerous awards including STEM Forward Young Engineer of the Year, the Oscar Werwath Distinguished Teacher Award and an MSOE Alumni Achievement Award.

None of these personal and professional accolades would have been possible without the unwavering support of his family. “I came to see MSOE through the eyes of my parents—an example of how philanthropy gave their child the opportunity to pursue a rewarding career,” he said.

Because of that, Durant says having the ability to now pay that generosity forward is one of his proudest accomplishments. In
2009, his family established the Marilyn Durant Memorial Endowed Scholarship in memory of his late mother. Durant, his father Alan, and others made gifts to get the scholarship started—including $25,000 from Alan which was matched 100% by We Energies. Following Alan’s death in 2022, the scholarship was renamed the Alan and Marilyn Durant Memorial Endowed Scholarship to honor both of Durant’s parents.

Even more rewarding is Durant’s ability to witness the impact of his giving each time he steps into the classroom. “I want these students to become thought leaders and top contributors in their own fields, with MSOE giving them a jump start on that journey. Later, I hope that experience inspires them to give through their time and talents and to support the next generation that follows in their footsteps.”