David Wallace

David Wallace talks to students in the Paul B. Jacob High Voltage Laboratory
Photo by Grace Cockrell

Growing up on a farm near Brookhaven, using ingenuity with limited resources and being driven by parents who expected him to do his best, David Wallace decided to become an engineer, and he enrolled at Mississippi State as an undergraduate.

Decades later, he now heads the largest university-based high voltage laboratory in North America at Mississippi State, and he attributes his electrical engineering career and achievements largely to the MSU professor who became Wallace’s longtime mentor. Wallace eventually succeeded the electrical engineering icon, Stanislaw Grzybowski, who was respected internationally for his expertise and further elevated MSU as a leader in the science of high voltage research.

Grzybowski served as an MSU professor for 27 years and director of the university’s Paul B. Jacob High Voltage Laboratory for over 18 years. Wallace said his own tenure as a student began as Jacob, founder of the high voltage laboratory, was retiring and as Grzybowski was just getting started on the faculty. Wallace graduated from MSU in 1989, but his major professor kept in contact with him and never relented in his request for Wallace to return to his alma mater for graduate studies.

In the meantime, Wallace was interested in getting on with his career rather than prolonging college, so he went into industry as a manufacturing engineer and research/design engineer. He loved having jobs in Mississippi that kept him near family and friends, but he enjoyed a position with Kuhlman Electric for two decades that allowed him to travel the world doing work with high voltage infrastructure. This job fueled an infatuation with high voltage electricity.

Though he loved his Kuhlman “work family,” when Mississippi State extended an invitation in 2016 for him to return to campus as manager of the high voltage laboratory, the timing was right. Grzybowski was getting older and had to step back from his teaching and lab duties. Wallace enjoyed regular visits with him at home and still recalls how Grzybowski, in his later years, “was as brilliant as ever.”

David Wallace in the high voltage laboratory

During Wallace’s career, MSU had developed engineering degree programs through distance learning, and Grzybowski had urged Wallace to get his master’s degree while he was working. When Wallace finished the master’s, Grzybowski strongly informed Wallace that he would continue with the Ph.D. program, but Wallace told the professor he didn’t need to get a Ph.D. for his industry work. Grzybowski was insistent—so Wallace naturally earned his doctorate in electrical engineering under the direction of his longtime teacher. Ultimately, this helped pave the way for his current academic role as an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Today, those who visit the high voltage lab in Simrall Hall immediately can sense Wallace’s respect for his predecessors, and his enthusiasm for electricity—both the sheer power of it and how it can be applied to benefit people everywhere.

“We make the world run,” Wallace said of electrical engineers. He said students in the department are studying how to generate electricity, including high voltage levels, transmit it across large service areas, and protect it so that it can be used reliably.

“We study all aspects of electrification of the world,” he said.

In addition to conducting testing and evaluation for industry needs, as well as academic research, the lab is helping train the next generation of electrical engineering leaders—professionals who are in high demand and well paid for their knowledge and skills, Wallace said. He enjoys giving talks and tours to young students who may consider going into the field.

Wallace said the amazing characteristics of electricity keep the work fascinating.

For more about Wallace and his work, click here to watch a recent interview on the Bagley College of Engineering program Momentum.