Like many graduate students, Dorien Llewellyn wanted to earn his master’s degree, but he still needed to work full-time.
Unlike most graduate students, Llewellyn’s full-time job is training and competing as an elite world-ranked water skier.
Llewellyn says enrolling in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s online M.S. in Systems Technology, allowed him to earn his graduate degree from his home in Florida while leveraging his physics and skiing background to develop new protective gear as part of his master's project.
The search for his perfect fit
Before completing his bachelor’s degree in physics, Llewellyn sat down with a professor in his undergraduate program to discuss his options for graduate school.
He wanted the next stage in his education to put him on track to work in engineering. He knew he needed an online program that would allow him to stay in Florida, where he trains all year and lives near family. And he absolutely had to have autonomy and independence to fit his classwork around his training and competition schedule.
The MS in Systems Technology online matched up so well with Llewellyn’s needs, priorities, and goals, he could not pass up such a good fit.
“Coming from physics and wanting to get more to the engineering side of science, my professor thought Systems Tech would be a perfect program to, you know, bridge the gap from where I was at to where I wanted to go,” says Llewellyn.
“It was a blend of a lot of really good things.” Llewellyn was also familiar with the University.
As a member of the ski team during undergrad in Winter Park, Florida, Llewellyn often competed against the Ragin’ Cajuns.
The water-skiing community is so small and well-connected that competitors are often still friends, says Llewellyn.
“I have a lot of friends at every school with a ski team, but I seem to have more at UL Lafayette,” he says. “So, it became an inside joke every year that I was going to eventually transfer after I graduated and do my graduate school at UL Lafayette.”
And then one day, it wasn’t a joke anymore.
In addition to all the ways the systems technology program online met Llewellyn’s needs, he was also able to use his capstone project as a springboard to make a passion project a reality.
Using principles from his grad school courses and in partnership with his longtime sponsor, Camaro Watersports, Llewellyn spent his last two semesters designing, developing, and testing a new safety suit for water-skiers.
“The new suit is something that I’m really excited about,” says Llewellyn. “It was not only a great research project to do, but I think it’ll really help the water ski community as well.”
The flexibility of online classes was a key to making it all possible. Llewellyn’s training schedule can mean skiing as many as six times per day.
He describes filling in the gaps of a typical day with classwork between his morning sessions, studying after sunset, and anytime inclement weather washed out the day.
“To be honest, I don’t think that I could be skiing at the level that I am now without having the opportunity to do this online program,” he says.
Using his education to serve his community
Though a long-time resident of central Florida, Llewellyn comes from an international water-skiing family, following in the wake of his parents, Jaret and Britta, and his uncle, Kreg.
“My mom’s from Austria and my dad’s from Canada,” he says. “I started my career on the Austrian Junior Team, and then the Austrian Open Team, and then when I was 18, I switched to Canada to ski with my dad.”
Llewellyn competes as an overall skier, meaning he performs in multiple events. Each event carries a reasonable risk of injury for the skier, with jumping being the most extreme.
At Llewellyn’s level in the sport, boats are pulling skiers across the water and up a 6-foot-tall ramp at around 36 miles per hour. Athletes in slalom and jump can experience “the same G forces a Formula One driver” Llewellyn explains.
“The jumpsuits that we have right now, they’re good enough for flotation and everything. But there are skiers that have even supplemented their jumpsuits with, you know, back braces or rib protection,” he says.
As he learned more in Systems Technology, Llewellyn wanted to explore the ways protective gear could be improved and how to implement those changes into a real design.
“I had a personal belief and desire to create this back-brace type system having seen people experience spinal cord injuries. And so immediately I knew that you know, with the layout, I wanted to protect the back, I want to protect the spine,” he says.
Brainstorming ideas with his father, logistics with colleagues at Camaro Watersports, and testing prototypes with fellow champion skier Giannina Bonnemann, Llewellyn documented his research both as a student and as a product engineer.
Llewellyn applied principles from Dr. Joe Jordan’s course on total quality control and performed a lifecycle analysis of the suit based on Dr. Emmanuel Revellame’s class.
Dr. Revellame’s course on materials technology also proved crucial when Llewellyn was performing impact testing at home.
Using weights, aerated foam, heights, and persistence, Llewellyn was able to measure how much force made it through the padding of his new suit as compared to the old-style suits.
“I was doing this from my house in Florida, so I didn’t have a lot of high-tech gear,” he says. But he was encouraged with his findings, “I had really cool results and it was exactly what we were hoping for.”
“I think, yeah, everything kind of came together really nicely for this project.”
Start earning a degree that fits your life now and your goals for tomorrow. Request information about the M.S. in Systems Technology online program today.