Donor says Mines readied him for an engineering career

The School of Mines is privleged to have many great students attend throughout the years who become very successful during their lifetimes. Alumni are proud to have received a degree from SD Mines and have remained interested and involved with the university for decades after graduation. Jim (EE 68) and Kathy Kotas are great supporters of Mines and have committed both time and financial resources to the university throughout the years.

"My wife and I give to Mines because I feel like Mines helped me get ready for an engineering career with confidence that I could compete with the best at any job. Also, because of the early scholarship assistance I received, I knew firsthand the difference scholarships can make so I want to help offer the same opportunity to others," said Jim.

Jim grew up in Tripp, SD. He started at Mines in fall 1964 and graduated in June 1968 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. "I had applied for several scholarships since our family was not financially well off and every dollar would be needed to obtain a degree without borrowing any money. I was very pleasantly surprised to receive a notification that I was being awarded a scholarship from Homer Surbeck in the amount of $300 for each of the first two semesters, which covered my tuition as I best can remember. I was later surprised to discover upon arriving at the school that there was a brand new student center named for him so I felt a very personal connection every time I entered Surbeck Center. I enjoyed meeting my new classmates and many have become lifelong friends with whom we have 'mini-reunions' in various parts of the world," Jim stated.

Jim worked for General Electric at Cape Kennedy on the Apollo program for Apollo 8 through 15 and helped develop some of the first visual flight simulators for Navy and Air Force pilots and multiple commercial and international companies. He helped pave the way for the incredible game and simulation technology available today on any laptop. GE sold off their Aerospace Department to Martin Marietta which merged with other companies to become Lockheed Martin where he held various jobs, becoming Director of Navy Programs before his retirement.

Jim and Kathy have supported Mines in many ways throughout the years. Jim began giving back to his alma mater after only a year out of college. Jim joined together with several classmates in 2006 to establish the Class of 1968 Scholarship. Volunteers from the class rallied together to locate and contact their other classmates to invite everyone to participate. The effort to build the scholarship endowment to $40,000 by the fortieth anniversary of their graduation in 2008 was not only met but surpassed. Many classmates have continued to pledge or contribute as word of the project spreads with the long-term goal being 100% participation. The endowment now exceeds $125,000. "The contributions I make are usually earmarked for the Class of 1968 Scholarship fund because it helps to give our class an identity for incoming students with perhaps a small personal connection that some former graduates are offering encouragement to the new freshman student who is the recipient of our scholarship," Jim said.

Jim began contributing because of the assistance he received with the Surbeck Scholarship. "I was happy to donate when I could. I worked for GE at the time and they would match whatever I donated which was extra incentive. Even though I retired from Lockheed Martin, GE still continues to match my donations to the Foundation."

Jim and his wife, Kathy, currently live in Daytona Beach, FL. Even though he has moved due to his career several times, he has been fortunate enough to live in the same house on the Halifax River for the past 34 years. This meant lots of commuting by car and air for many years. Although it became tough at times, Jim is happy he kept the house with the river view and is happy to still call it home.

When asked what he aspires for in the future from SD Mines and/or Mines students, he stated, "I feel like there are few careers as exciting as technology and engineering. It is the engineers of the world who build new things, improve things, and apply science to allow consumer use in many areas. Engineering continues to challenge the brain and thinking no matter what age or type of discipline you have studied. I volunteer at a local museum of science where we build hands-on science exhibits for kids which continues to expose me to new technologies and is challenging and fun working with young kids in the process. My hope is that we can encourage more young women and men to go into engineering and discover that, yes, it is hard work, but it is very rewarding and will give you life skills that allow you to pick any path and be successful. There are so many new science and technology breakthroughs today that could never even be guessed at when we graduated, and it will be these new students coming from Mines who will be making the next general of technology breakthroughs because of their education."