Jonas Umlauft: Soaring on Court and in the Classroom

By: Eric R. Matsunaga,  Marketing and Public Affairs Director, College of Engineering

On any given night at a UH Warrior men’s volleyball match, it quickly becomes evident that the player wearing the number 10 jersey possesses a special skill set and mastery of the game with thunderous, high-flying spikes. In fact, for the second consecutive season, Jonas Umlauft was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American First Team and for the second consecutive year, led the nation in kills.

What is unknown to most is that Umlauft is equally as talented in the classroom as an electrical engineering major. His dominance on-court is matched in the classroom as Umlauft carries a current GPA of 3.93 in what is traditionally known as the most difficult area in engineering. In fact, he has already taken junior level classes and may be able to complete his undergraduate degree in three and a half years.

What is refreshing about Umlauft is that he does not fit the mold of the stereotypical athlete. After a stellar four-year career in volleyball at Landschulheim Kempfenhausen High School in Stamberg, Germany, including winning the 2008 German National Championship, Umlauft could have easily transitioned to a successful professional career in Europe. Instead, he chose to come to the United States and to the UH Mānoa to study electrical engineering.

“I came to the U.S. to combine academics and athletics as a way to challenge my brain, which would not have been possible had I stayed,” said Umlauft. “Playing professionally is still an option after I graduate, but it’s not my favorite thing to pursue.”

What Umlauft would like to purse is a career in electrical engineering back in Germany, where he left a lot of broken items and gadgets around his parents’ home in Stadtbergen. He credits his early interest in engineering to a fascination with disassembling things. Luckily for the Umlauft household, his father Juergan was an electrical engineer and could piece together the results of his son’s curiosity.

“I had a lot of fun taking things apart to see how they worked, but after I reassembled them, they wouldn’t work,” he said. “I was tired of breaking things, so I decided to learn how things worked.”

His need to understand how things work, combined with his hobby of flying radio controlled model airplanes, led Umlauft to electrical engineering.

“I usually bought assembled sets, so there was not much to modify in terms of the aerodynamics,” he said. “So for optimization purposes, I focused on the electrical components like the engine, controller and receiver.”

“For me, design is the most interesting part of EE because you have the most freedom to solve a problem ‘your way,’” he added. “You have a lot of variables to take into account and you see what tradeoffs engineers in the real world are facing.”

For Umlauft, the key to success on the court and in the classroom, despite the rigors of practice, matches and travel, is to approach classes with the same mindset of treating every drill in practice as though it were the championship match.

Electrical Engineering Assistant Professor Aaron Ohta, one of Umlauft’s instructors, is impressed by his conscientiousness. “Although he must adhere to a tough physical training schedule, and travels frequently for road games, he has still managed to complete all of his assignments,” said Ohta. “In class, he is attentive, and asks questions that demonstrate his ability to quickly grasp concepts in a difficult subject like electrical circuits.”