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NMSU-Alamogordo grad speeds to success

New Mexico State University-Alamogordo graduate Steve Masters has always felt a need for speed. At 13, with only the rubber of his shoes to stop him, he raced around his neighborhood at 32 mph in a small red wagon he equipped with a 3.5 horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine. That engine was later used on any wood cart or go-cart Masters could find before his parents made him sell it to keep him out of trouble.

New Mexico State University-Alamogordo graduate Steve Masters stands with an ignition kit he is developing for use with Chevrolet V8 engines. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Masters is all grown up and still feels that need for speed. As head of research and development for MSD Ignition of El Paso, Masters has found his niche inventing high-performance ignition systems and accessories used by racecar, motorcycle, jet ski and snowmobile performance enthusiasts everywhere, including the top drivers of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).

Masters graduated with his associate's degree in electronics technology from NMSU-Alamogordo in 1985, after his former boss and mentor, Harold Scott, persuaded him to get his degree. Scott, the owner of Scott Motors in Alamogordo, told Masters that a degree would help further his career. Before working for Scott Motors, Masters completed a three-and-a-half-year enlistment with the U.S. Air Force, which allowed him to use the GI Bill to help pay for school.

It was at the Alamogordo campus that Steve found another mentor - Professor James Nutt, whom he still sees regularly. "I enjoyed all the classes I took from Jim and he was very knowledgeable about the subjects he taught and made those courses seem like some of the easier ones," Masters says.

Nutt says despite attending college later in life, working full-time and having a family to boot, Masters proved to be an excellent student. "Steve was always three steps ahead of me. It was such a joy to work with him. He would come and show me how he worked out a problem and then continued to find other solutions also. He was always thinking and finding a better way to implement an end result."

Masters' accomplishments are no surprise to his former professor.

"Steve's success is a tribute to his intelligence, hard work and enthusiasm," Nutt says. "The engineering technology department at NMSU-A is proud to be a part of that success. I was happy to have a student like Steve and his accomplishments are one of the rewards of being a teacher. To see a student excel and succeed is the icing on the cake for an instructor that enjoys teaching."

After earning his degree, Masters continued to work for Scott Motors, where he developed motor speed controls, hybrid alternator controls and other power control-type projects, and earned two U.S. patents. In 1991, he took a job with MSD.

"I came to MSD because of the large research and development potential I saw there," Masters says. "I knew this company had big potential for marketing whatever products I could design and get to production, and this has proven to be true."

MSD controls about 70 percent of the market for high-performance, aftermarket ignition systems and with more than 500 employees, it's one of El Paso's largest employers.

Masters says he could not be where he is today without some of the best mentors from high school to the present. "I think that all of my teachers, especially my high school machine shop teacher, Marvin Mier, have had positive influences on me to succeed and be my best...I have been fortunate to work with people who have been successful and have helped and encouraged others to do the same. I only hope I can do likewise.