Dr. Brad Dennis
The journey that would land Dr. Brad Dennis at MSOE had a few twists and turns. But a series of high-stress jobs, a fascination with gut bacteria, and a desire for a degree would all work together to shape his vision as an educator.
“I dropped out of college twice,” said Dennis. Majoring in electrical engineering at Auburn University turned out to be “a complete mismatch.”
So, Dennis left college for a number of programming jobs, first in Alabama and then on the West Coast. But life in the San Francisco Bay Area during the dot-com boom turned out to be less than ideal.
“Life was so stressful, everything was failing around us, and there was so much pressure,” he said. After ten years in industry, Dennis returned to Auburn and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in software engineering. He finished most of his course work for his doctorate, but the need to work pulled him away once again.
“You can’t fool around in school for ten years when you’re in your 30s,” said Dennis. “As nice as that would be, you gotta go to work.”
It would be another seven years before he would return to Auburn with his wife and baby to finish his Ph.D. But when it came time to write his dissertation: “I hate writing,” Dennis said. “So, I procrastinated.” He indulged his interest in weight loss and became involved in The American Gut Project, a study that collected and cataloged bacteria from the intestinal tracts of volunteers across the country.
Dennis’s lab test from the project showed he had an abundance of gut bacteria associated with obesity. That fueled his curiosity even more. He read about the microbiome, probiotics, prebiotics. He imported dried fruit from Portugal and heirloom yogurt from Norway. He conducted experiments on himself. “I became a gut health expert instead of writing my dissertation,” said Dennis.
It all led to Dennis designing formulas for prebiotics and gave birth to his business, Great Gut LLC.
Still, Dennis wanted to teach. “Software has a big history of failing as an industry, so I wanted to study techniques that help others be successful, and that’s what drove me teach,” he said. “I want my students to have a career where they’re happy and not filled with stress.”
He finished his dissertation in 2014, and discovered an opening in MSOE’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. “When I looked at MSOE’s curriculum, I saw that almost every class had a lab with it, and I thought, ‘That’s how you teach software engineering—by a lot of doing.’”
It was because of his entrepreneurial work that Dennis wanted to get involved with the CREATE Institute. “I really believe in helping our students think differently about solving problems, and that’s what entrepreneurship does,” he said. “We have these grand challenges. We want our kids to think of them as grand opportunities.”
Targeting how people think—that’s what Dennis likes about the MSOE Mindset. “We’re saying look to create value. Be a leader of character. I think that’s very powerful.”
As a KEEN ICE facilitator, Dennis will also train faculty members to integrate entrepreneurial minded learning into the classroom.
Dennis lives in Franklin, Wisconsin with his wife and two sons, ages 4 and 7. He says his oldest is already talking about doing business with Dad. “I think if I could build a generational business, that would be the ultimate for me.”