IOWA CITY – Once upon a time, when cell phones were still relatively new, it was commonplace for many people to schedule calls after 10 p.m. Carriers commonly charged less for phone calls during those periods. Those callers have a Muscatine native to thank.
William C. Ditch, of Muscatine, graduated from the University of Iowa in 1956 with a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering paid for with G.I. Bill money he earned while serving in the U.S. Army at Ft. Riley, Kansas. Shortly after graduation, he was hired by AT&T.
Ditch analyzed the flow of information traffic, looking for revenue growth opportunities. According to Alec Scranton, Dean of University of Iowa's College of Engineering, this was when the savvy engineer had an idea.
"He was analyzing traffic and saw there was essentially no traffic after (10 p.m.)," Scranton said. With traffic down during those late hours, it got Ditch thinking about how he could begin creating demand there. "From a business point of view, it made perfect sense to offer a discounted rate because that is capacity bandwidth that isn't used at all. That creates new demand."
He left AT&T as the regional vice president for the East Coast.
After a short time with a worldwide electronic monitoring service, ADT, Ditch founded The Sterling Group in 1986. The holding company bridged the gap between information technology and electronic security. At its height, the company employed 600 people nationwide, and, in 2013, was bought out by Cennox, a British global leader in banking and retail support services.
For his record, the engineer-turned-entrepreneur was inducted into University of Iowa's Distinguished Engineering Alumni Academy last night during a private ceremony held at the university.
Ditch is one of only 83 graduates to be inducted into the academy. The college website describes entrance as recognition for "University of Iowa engineering alumni for their contribution to engineering achievement, leadership and service to the profession and to society."
He is joining a list of five other alumni who have roots in Muscatine: Maxwell Stanley, Dick Stanley, Joe Summers, Don Bently and Tom Hanson.
The university invites these distinguished alumni back to lead lectures and talk to students.
"Students get an idea of how you get things done and what they could accomplish in their careers," Scranton said. "To put these career people in front of students so they can learn from them, it can be a fairly diverse group." They have representation from all six of the college's offered engineering degrees: biomedical, chemical and biochemical, civil and environmental, electrical, industrial, and mechanical.
"Hopefully, (people) will see that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) can be great fields for careers with a way of life that you would want to have," Scranton said. "And Muscatine is an amazing community with a lot of engineers that work there. With Stanley, HNI, Monsanto, Bandag and more, there is a lot of engineering expertise that is required by industries in this relatively small town. That's probably why we have so many inductees from Muscatine."
Scranton insisted that with so much opportunity in Muscatine and the world's trend toward greater technological integration, it's time more than ever for towns like Muscatine to encourage students to look into STEM fields.
"Engineering and STEM are great career pathways for students to consider," Scranton said. "Technology is only becoming more important to society. All of this connectedness will impact people no matter what field they are in. Understanding what technology can offer, what are the unsolved questions is something that is great for everyone no matter what they want to do with their lives."