Category Archives: Fridays with Fuhrmann

Fridays with Fuhrmann: Welcome Future Huskies!

FWF-image-20170317Our ability to make an impact on the lives of young people, and on economic development and workforce training in the state of Michigan and nationwide, depends critically on university efforts to spread the word about the value of a Michigan Tech education and to get students in the front door. Today I would like to acknowledge the outstanding work done by John Lehman, Associate Vice President for Enrollment and University Relations, Allison Carter, Director of Admissions, and their entire team of university recruiters who spend countless hours on the road attending high school college fairs, talking to students and high school counselors, and serving as our front line ambassadors for the university. We could not do our job if they did not do theirs, and they do it very well.

As you might imagine many of the efforts in the Office of Admission have to be coordinated with the academic departments such as ECE, where we hold meetings with prospective students and their families, make our own pitch about undergraduate programs in electrical and computer engineering, and give tours of our department facilities. The point of contact for student recruiting in the ECE Department is Judy Donahue, our EE Undergraduate Academic Advisor. Student recruiting has become a big part of Judy’s everyday workload and she does an absolutely fabulous job with it. We are fortunate to have Judy be the face of the ECE Department for so many students who are facing critically important decisions about their future. Judy gets a lot of valuable support from CpE Undergraduate Academic Advisor Trever Hassell, ECE Associate Chair Glen Archer and a cadre of cheerful and enthusiastic ECE students who help out with department tours, demonstrations, and phone campaigns.

The main event in the recruiting season this spring is Preview Day, which is tomorrow (Saturday, March 18). This is the day when we invite prospective students and their families to campus, and put on a big show at both the university and department levels. Part of the day takes place at a central location, the Memorial Union Ballroom, where all the academic departments have tables set up in an exhibit hall format, and folks can wander around to collect information and engage in conversation. Part of the day takes place in the departments themselves, where we stage tours and demonstrations, again with lots of help from our students. As usual Judy Donahue is coordinating all the efforts for the ECE Department. This year has turned out be unusual in the sense that we have a very large number of students signed up to tour the ECE Department, much more than in previous years. Some might call this situation a “success disaster” but it’s a good problem to have, and we can handle it. The large response this year might be dumb luck, but I like to think that it is a result of efforts by us and others, calling attention to all the career opportunities in electrical and computer engineering and the uniqueness of our community at Michigan Tech. We will be ready and are delighted to welcome so many future engineers!

One of the activities that supports student recruiting in the ECE Department is a design competition among current students that we call MasterpiECE Mania. I started this a few years ago, when I noticed that several academic departments had all sorts of cool gadgets and gizmos on their tables at recruiting events, and ECE did not have much to show other than paper handouts. I challenged the students to come up with interesting designs and products that don’t necessarily have to do anything useful, but are fun to look at or listen to, and show off the ingenuity of students in electrical and computer engineering. (Aside: “ingenuity” and “engineering” come from the same root in Latin “ingenium” so I guess that was redundant.) We use the winning entries in the larger recruiting events like tomorrow’s Preview Day. The competition itself is organized and run by our IEEE student branch, and this year our judging was just last night. I want to thank Chrissy Kaub, the IEEE student branch president, and her support team for making it happen this year; also I want to thank the ECE faculty who stepped up to serve as judges – Jeremy Bos, Roger Kieckhafer, and Warren Perger. We had nine entries. The winner came from the team of Nick Dubiel and Darren McCaul who created an electric arc audio speaker, where music is played using an electric arc between two high-voltage electrodes about an inch apart. If you are on the tour, you will see it (and hear it) tomorrow! Since we started this competition, I have been really impressed by the creativity and resourcefulness of our students, or at least a certain segment of them. It pains me to admit this, but I was never much of a tinkerer when I was a kid, so seeing what these students come up with is rather humbling!

Speaking of competitions, there is another big event on campus tomorrow night. The Michigan Tech Huskies men’s hockey team will be playing one game against the Bowling Green Falcons for the WCHA championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division 1 men’s hockey tournament. This is the first time that a WCHA championship game will be hosted at the MacInnes Ice Arena, and everyone around campus is pretty excited. I rented a skybox for the ECE Department so we will all be there having a big party and hopefully bringing home a Michigan Tech victory. Go Huskies!

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Thank You Dave!

FWF-image-20170310Greetings to all from the road. I have been out of town for a little over a week, on a trip that combined a little bit of work and a little bit of vacation. Actually a lot of vacation. Last weekend and in the early part of this week I was in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, seeing if my skills in downhill skiing, developed over many evenings and weekends at Mont Ripley, would carry over to a larger – much larger – resort in the Rockies. I am happy to say that they did; I had a wonderful time! From what I can tell the average skill level at Mont Ripley is higher than what it was at Steamboat. That’s because a lot of the people who go to a faraway mountain resort are duffers like me who go there for vacation, and are not regular expert skiers. I felt right at home. I can also report that, after nine years in the U.P., my tolerance for cold seems to be higher than that of the average flatlander who goes to Colorado. That’s a good thing, because from what I understand I’ll be coming home to some of the coldest weather of the winter.

The work-related part of my trip took me out to the San Francisco Bay Area, which I often visit during spring break. It was there that I had the chance to visit Dave House, the namesake of the professorship I now hold and my mentor for the time I have been at Michigan Tech. I had both a private meeting with Dave, and I attended a Michigan Tech alumni event that Dave hosted at the tasting room for the small winery that is part of his beautiful home and property in Saratoga. The setting for the latter event has a stunning view of all of Silicon Valley, and was a perfect setting for the gathering of about 50-60 people. Dave and his wife Devyani were gracious hosts, keeping the conversations lively and providing some of the best food and wine in California. Everyone had a lovely evening.

Reflecting on this short trip this morning, I thought it would be a good time to acknowledge Dave for everything he has meant to Michigan Tech and to me personally. Dave is a 1965 graduate of the Michigan Tech EE Department. He began his career working on radar systems for Raytheon in the Boston area, where he completed an MS degree at Northeastern University. He later switched over to computer engineering, and moved to California to begin a long career at Intel where he moved up the ranks from hardware engineer, to engineering manager, and eventually to Vice-President reporting to the late Andy Grove. He was responsible for the “Intel Inside” campaign which made a household name of the otherwise invisible processing hardware that drives untold numbers of personal computers and laptops. After a couple of other high-visibility positions in Silicon Valley, Dave is now the Chairman of the Board of Directors at Brocade, a market leader in optical networking equipment.

What sets Dave apart from so many other successful innovators in Silicon Valley is his unwavering commitment to giving back to the institutions where he got his start, both Michigan Tech and Northeastern. He has been extraordinarily generous in terms of both his financial gifts, and more valuable still his gift of time and effort to move the institution forward. The professorship that I hold is one of four that he has endowed at Michigan Tech. Two of the others are held by the Dean of the College of Engineering and the Chair of the Department of Computer Science, respectively, and the fourth is split between Associate
Professors Wayne Weaver and Bo Chen. The professorships come with more than money; they come with regular advice and mentoring in management, leadership, and innovation for which Dave is an acknowledged master. When I first arrived at Michigan Tech, Dave and I spent the better part of a day together, going through what we jokingly refer to as “House
Training.” His efforts on behalf of Michigan Tech are not just for my benefit; he has worked hard with many other leaders at the university at all levels. His financial gifts go well beyond the professorships mentioned above; he is responsible for the founding of the Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor, and he is providing support for visiting faculty in the newly formed Institute of Computing and Cybersystems. He was the Chairman of the Michigan Tech’s Generations of Discovery capital campaign that ran from 2006 to 2013 and raised over $215M for the university.

One of Dave’s goals over the past years has been to bring the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship one finds in Silicon Valley back to Houghton. These efforts including bringing teams of other executives and entrepreneurs from California to campus for meetings, panel discussions, and other events meant to raise awareness of where we need to be going, and to get feedback on who we are doing. Dave has been instrumental in instilling in many of us the importance of setting goals that are both meaningful and measurable. Many of his visits include “progress reports” where we get very specific about how we are doing relative to the metrics we are using to define success. The idea of such a goal-oriented approach to academics was new to me when I first arrived at this position, but now I find it perfectly natural and I can’t imagine doing business any other way.

Dave and I don’t always agree on everything, and sometimes he gives me a hard time when he thinks our progress is not what it ought to be, by our own standards. That’s the way it should be. There is always a good give and take, and he always lets you know where he stands.

Dave and I share a common vision: the best Michigan Tech that all of us working together can possibly create. I know I speak for many of us at Michigan Tech when I say: thank you Dave for everything you do!

Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University

p.s. while I am in the mood for thank-yous, let me add three others: 1) Tim Schulz, former ECE Department Chair and former Dean of the College of Engineering, who is responsible in large part for re-engaging Dave with Michigan Tech many years ago; 2) Gwen Caldwell, Dave’s very capable personal assistant whom I met for the first time last night and who has never been anything but perfectly friendly and professional, and finally 3) Adam Johnson, our unflappable and ultra-hip Michigan Tech “tour wrangler” for all the House-related activities on campus and in California.


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Spring Break

FWF-image-20170303-pic2Today is the Friday of Week 8 in the spring academic calendar, and last regular class day before spring break at Michigan Tech. Things are pretty quiet around campus, as many students and faculty members head out for a variety of activities elsewhere. At least, I assume that is the case: I am not on campus to observe, as I am on the road myself for a trip that is a little bit work and mostly vacation.

This day is a special one for me. It was on the Friday before spring break in 2008, nine years ago, that I first set foot on the Michigan Tech campus. Then-dean Tim Schulz picked me up at the airport late Thursday night, after his weekly hockey game, and dropped me off at the hotel; on Friday I spent the day on campus learning all about the ECE Department, and gave a technical seminar on my work on adaptive sensing. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was where I wanted to be. Tim figured out how to push all my buttons. In addition to everything we did on campus, he arranged social events with people who would eventually become good friends, showing what a strong sense of community we have in our little town. He took me cross-country skiing on the Tech Trails, and we even went out to McLain State Park and walked around on Lake Superior ice! It must have been a colder winter than what we are having this year. Tim was a master recruiter and I have tried my best to follow his example in our faculty searches over the past nine years.

The halfway point in the semester (which was actually last week, not this one) means the conclusion of the course I teach, EE 1110 Essential Mathematics for Electrical Engineering. I sometimes struggle with balancing the competing responsibilities of teaching, research, and department administration, but on the teaching side I have found a good compromise by teaching this 1-credit course in a half-semester format. I stay in town in January and February, which is perfectly fine with me, and the second half of the semester is available for travel and other larger administrative tasks. This semester we had 144 students enrolled in EE1110, which makes it the largest course I have ever taught. With such a large class, I don’t get much of a chance to get to know many of the students personally, but I do enjoy taking a group of students with a diverse set of talents and abilities and doing what I can to get them ready for our regular EE curriculum. You’ll have to ask them if I was successful or not.

I am a big believer in the notion that, as a public institution, Michigan Tech has a responsibility to provide something of value to all our students, who come from all walks of life and all different levels of preparation and training. We don’t have the luxury of being ultra-selective, but I couldn’t be prouder of the job we are doing to prepare students for careers in engineering, whether they are class valedictorian or come from the middle of the pack in their high schools. I have designed EE1110 with this in mind. Students have three chances at the final exam. Some breeze through it on the first try, others study a bit more and are successful the second time. Some students need all three chances, and I don’t have a problem with that – I’m in favor of whatever they need to do to demonstrate mastery of the material before moving on.

With EE1110 behind me for this semester, I plan on spending time in March and April crafting our strategic goals and our strategic plan for achieving those goals. We do this on a three-year cycle, and this time I would like to have our plan in place before the start of the next academic year. The entire faculty will need to agree on the plan, so there will be a fair amount of discussion and wordsmithing before the final document is approved. I am optimistic this can be accomplished before the faculty go in all different directions in May. The biggest challenge will be doing this at the same time we are preparing for our ABET visit, which is coming up next fall. Never a dull moment!

The little bit of work alluded to in the first paragraph happens toward the end of next week, when I will be in California. The vacation part starts today. Happy spring break everyone!

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Engineers, Go Fourth

FWF-image-20170224This week is Engineers Week, a national celebration of all things engineering, and as you might imagine there are a number of activities going on around campus that raise awareness of the field (like we need that here) and generally give us the opportunity to feel good about who we are and what we do. Although the ECE Department does not take a lead role in organizing the week’s activities, various corners of the department such as the Blue Marble Security Enterprise are participating. This past Wednesday was also the date of the spring Career Fair, when companies and organizations come to campus to recruit our students for co-ops, internships, and full-time jobs. The spring fair is always smaller than the one in the fall, but with 219 recruiting organizations on campus it is still respectable by anyone’s standards. As usual, a lot of companies are looking to hire electrical engineers and computer engineers, a theme I have touched on many times before. This weekend the fun will continue with a student-organized and student-led hackathon called Winter Wonderhack. We expect a fair number of Michigan Tech students, some students for other universities in the region, and maybe a few high school students too, on campus showing off their chops in creativity and invention.

This seems like a good week to talk about where technology is going, and the role that an organization like the ECE Department can play. I recently read the book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” by Klaus Schwab, and thought I would offer a few thoughts about it.

Schwab is the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, the annual meeting of world leaders in government and industry held in Davos, Switzerland. This meeting draws a lot of heavy hitters – including, sometimes, the President of the United States – and as a result it gets a fair amount of press. The theme of the 2016 WEF meeting was “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution” and Schwab’s new book provides a succinct companion volume to that meeting. The concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been around for a while, and I have even used it for several years in some of my own presentations to prospective high school students and first-year students at Tech. The promotion of the idea through the WEF brings it to a higher level of visibility in industry, government, and in the public imagination.

The basic idea is that human society has been through a series of transformative periods in our history, brought about by technological innovations, that each time have fundamentally altered the way we live and work. The First Industrial Revolution (the one often taught in high school as THE Industrial Revolution) occurred in the period from 1760 to 1840, and is characterized as the change from human and animal labor to mechanized work, exemplified by the steam engine. The Second Industrial Revolution occurred around the turn of the 20th century, with the rise of mass production and assembly lines, made possible by the widespread use of electrical power. It was during this time that “action at a distance” became commonplace – one could burn a lump of coal at one place and turn on a light somewhere else. Or, one could tap a key in a telegraph office and information would instantaneously appear 50 miles away. Or, with the aid of refrigeration, food could be grown on a farm and days or weeks later consumed in the city. The Third Industrial Revolution, in the 1960s and 1970s is associated with the rise of computers, and the use of computers to automate many manufacturing and information processing tasks.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is, at its core, all about connectivity. While computer technology developed rapidly in the latter part of the 20th century, the tasks being performed were tasks that we were already doing. In contrast, the connected nature of all the computers and sensors in the 21st century is fundamentally altering our daily lives – not only how we do things, but what we want to do in the first place. The Internet is largest and most visible of this movement, but in truth the Internet is only just the beginning of this revolution. Now we are moving into the era of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) or the “Internet of Everything” where all the objects and devices in our lives, whether for personal use or for business, manufacturing, or process control, will be connected through one vast network of sensing, communication, and control. “Cyber-physical systems” is a term used to describe the convergence of digital and physical technology that is happening alongside the IoT.

One of the aspects of the current industrial revolution, which sets it apart from the previous three, is the speed at which technology is developed and subsequently adopted. The Internet has gone from an academic curiosity to the primary engine of communication and commerce in the space of 20 years. Amazon was founded in 1994, Google in 1998. The first iPhone was introduced in 2007, and now there are an estimated 2 billion smartphones worldwide. AirBnB and Uber were unknown 5 years ago, and are now household names. Right now autonomous vehicles are the subject of vigorous research and development, but according to many enthusiastic (and optimistic) advocates they could be on the roads by 2021. Imagine the day when autonomous vehicles are as common, and as accepted as normal, as the smartphone is today!

Klaus devotes much of the book to the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as well he should. I imagine this is in keeping with the many discussions taking place at the World Economic Forum, as leaders grapple with all the implications of this revolution in their respective constituencies. I don’t have the space here to discuss all those implications at length, but I can say a few things about the impact on my own constituency: electrical and computer engineers at Michigan Tech. A good place to start is with the list of 23 “shifts”, as Klaus calls them in the appendix of the book, itself an outgrowth of a 2015 WEF survey report. These are the major technology trends associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and each associated with a “tipping point”, the point at which a technology moves from being a novelty to a necessity. They are:

1. Implantable Technologies
2. Our Digital Presence
3. Vision as the New Interface
4. Wearable Internet
5. Ubiquitous Computing
6. A Supercomputer in Your Pocket
7. Storage for All
8. The Internet of and for Things
9. The Connected Home
10. Smart Cities
11. Big Data for Decisions
12. Driverless Cars
13. Artificial Intelligence and Decision Making
14. AI and White-Collar Jobs
15. Robotics and Services
16. Bitcoin and the Blockchain
17. The Sharing Economy
18. Governments and the Blockchain
19. 3D Printing and Manufacturing
20. 3D Printing and Human Health
21. 3D Printing and Consumer Products
22. Designer Beings
23. Neurotechnologies

When I look at that list, and I cannot help but think – wow, there is a lot of work here for electrical and computer engineers. It is not exclusively ECE related technology, of course, but we will have our fingerprints all over it, probably more than any other discipline with the possible exception of computer science. This is precisely why I bring up the Fourth Industrial Revolution when speaking to young students with interests in STEM: this is what is coming, and the world needs you to make it happen.

I also notice in this list that, while on the surface it looks cheerful and optimistic, there are also a lot of technologies that could be subverted by those who seek to do harm to others. For this reason, cybersecurity will be a hugely important component of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. While he does not discuss security in the appendix, Schwab does cover it elsewhere, touching on the changing nature of conflict, cyber warfare, autonomous warfare, the militarization of space, and related topics.

The challenge for us in engineering education is to make sure that we are preparing students to enter this world. I see two complementary aspects to this. First, we must be certain that we continue to stress the fundamentals – after all, the laws of physics do not change (as I saw in an electronic product slogan tagline once, they are just more rigorously enforced.) Time spent learning the timeless truths of mathematics is never wasted. At the same time, we must be aware of these disruptive technologies and be certain that our students’ mastery of fundamentals is not diverted to the mastery of obsolete technology. We must also be certain that students have the skills, in the right proportion of depth and breadth, to be valuable not only for their expertise in a very narrow slice of technology but also for their broader understanding of the context for their expertise. For this reason, I am a believer in the “T-shaped” knowledge base that Robert Lucky alludes to in his column in the January 2017 issue of IEEE Spectrum – a deep specialty combined with broad understanding. Looking over Klaus’ list of 23, I would argue that, for our students, the horizontal arm of the T would encompass at least three major disciplines: electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science. The vertical arm would be the particular specialty, which could dive deep into some sub-specialty within one of those three disciplines. I am convinced that someone with that combination would find a world of opportunity laid at their feet.

Klaus’ book is relatively short but it raises a lot of important points that can serve as the basis for many fruitful discussions. These are exactly the kinds of discussions that I hope that we will have here at Michigan Tech as we imagine our own future. After all, our informal slogan is “Create the Future” and that applies to the institution just as much as it does to our students. Institutions such as ours are the engine behind the Fourth Industrial Revolution and where it is headed is largely up to us. Will we be in the driver’s seat?

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Our Extraordinary Assistant Professors

FWF-image-3-20170217The life blood of any academic department is the faculty, and one of the keys to maintaining an intellectually healthy and vigorous faculty is the regular infusion of new talent and all the fresh ideas that come with it. I am happy to say that over the time that I have been here, the ECE Department has been fortunate to be able to bring in a number of new young faculty members, and doubly fortunate that they have been successful in so many different ways. Today I want to give a special shout-out to that side of our department.

By way of background, for those not completely familiar with the U.S. system, at most universities there are three ranks of tenured and tenure-track faculty: Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor. Anyone with the word “Professor” in their title is expected to be recognized as a scholar in his or her respective field, and to be able to translate that scholarship into effective classroom teaching. The usual duties of someone in these ranks is said to include teaching, research, and service, and the allocation of time and efforts among these three legs of the academic stool can vary quite a bit. Assistant Professors are near the beginning of their academic careers; they usually hold the PhD degree and may have some prior experience such as a post-doctoral fellowship. They are said to be “tenure-track” meaning that they will be seeking tenure after some period of time, typically six years. Associate Professors are more mid-career, continuing on the successful path that was begun earlier, and perhaps exploring new ideas, research areas, and collaborations. Tenure, the guarantee of lifetime employment to successful faculty members, is usually granted at the time of promotion from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor. Professors are the well-established faculty members who have built a strong track record in research and teaching, and are recognized nationally and internationally for their scholarly contributions. Professors often take on leadership positions within in the department or the university as well.

In the ECE Department right now we have four faculty members at the rank of Assistant Professor. At this time last year we actually had seven, but three of those – Durdu Guney, Tim Havens, and Chee-Wooi Ten – we promoted from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor last spring. I was delighted that all three were able to run the tenure and promotion gauntlet and emerge successfully at the other end. I had thought that three in one year must be a record, until Martha Sloan informed me that she was in a group of six such faculty members many years ago! We are happy for this group, and they are continuing to make us proud just as I knew they would.

Our four current Assistant Professors, in no particular order, are Jeremy Bos, Lucia Gauchia, Zhaohui Wang, and Sumit Paudyal. It has been a great year for this group, and over the past month or so we have gotten some wonderful news which has prompted this week’s column. Collectively they have been awarded three early-career awards: two National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER awards, and one U.S. Air Force Young Investigator Program (YIP) award. These awards give young faculty members the time and resources to build a strong foundation in research. Their success reflects a lot of hard work, definitely a lot of perseverance, and a little bit of good luck too. Fortune favors the prepared mind.

Dr. Jeremy Bos is a 2013 PhD graduate of our own program, working (then) under the supervision of Dr. Michael Roggemann in atmospheric and statistical optics. He continued in this line of research for two years under an Air Force post-doctoral fellowship on the island of Maui, before returning to Michigan Tech in 2015 to take up his current position. He is the recipient of a three-year Air Force YIP award, titled “Imaging Theory and Mitigation in Extreme Turbulence-Induced Anisoplanatism.” His research will help the Air Force to see objects over long distances through turbulent media, such as the atmosphere, which causes light paths to bend in unpredictable ways and wreaks havoc with conventional optics and image reconstruction. Jeremy also has a separate and practically unrelated technical interest area, namely robotics, control, and automation, which stems for his time as a engineer at GM prior to coming to graduate school. He is playing a critical role in helping the ECE Department develop a strategy for expanding our robotics programs, all the way from graduate research, to undergraduate teaching, to pre-college outreach. It’s like having two faculty members in one!

Dr. Lucia Gauchia came to Michigan Tech in 2013, originally from Spain and most recently (at the time) a visiting position at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario. Her area of interest is in energy storage systems, which covers the different ways that we can store energy that has been generated electrically so that it can be used at a later time. Utilities and consumers need energy storage to balance the generation of electrical power with the demands of electrical loads – often the two are out of sync. Because energy conversion is of interest to both electrical engineers and mechanical engineers, Lucia holds a joint appointment in the ECE Department and the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. She holds an endowed position, the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Assistant Professor of Energy Storage Systems. Her cross-listed graduate course in energy storage systems is increasingly popular each year, and she gets very high student course evaluations for it. Lucia is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award, titled “An Ecologically Inspired Approach to Battery Lifetime Analysis and Testing.” She plans to borrow ideas from lifecycle analysis and population dynamics to understand better the performance and potential failure modes of batteries and battery packs, an increasingly important component of utility power systems, automobiles, and a myriad of other applications of electrical power.

Dr. Zhaohui Wang also came to Michigan Tech in 2013, having just completed her PhD with a very successful group at the University of Connecticut. Her work is in underwater acoustic communication networks. She had originally came in on a “computer engineering” search, but she has proven herself to be an able contributor in signals and systems as well. She teaches courses in wireless sensor networks, detection and estimation theory, and for the first time this semester our required undergraduate course in communication theory. Because of her interest in underwater acoustics, she is a member of the Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) and has a large and expanding laboratory there. Zhaohui is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award, titled “Online Learning-Based Underwater Acoustic Communication and Networking” which will support much of her research for the next five years. She plans to develop methods for communication among multiple underwater surveillance platforms that take advantage of real-time modeling of underwater acoustic communication channels, which are dynamic and can be very complicated. This is an ambitious project combining elements of communication theory, signal processing, and physics. I can’t resist mentioning that Zhaohui was featured on the cover of our 2015 annual report (my favorite cover ever) walking across the ice on Keweenaw Bay in the dead of winter, where she and her graduate students were drilling holes in the ice and carrying out under-ice acoustic communication experiments.

Dr. Sumit Paudyal is the senior member of this group of young faculty. He came to us in 2012 with a PhD from the University of Waterloo, in Ontario. His work is on the electrical power side of the ECE Department, by far the most popular area among our current MS students. His research and teaching area is in optimization and control of power systems. He is the lead Michigan Tech investigator on a project sponsored by ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy) in collaboration with the University of Vermont, titled “Packetized Energy Management: Coordinating Transmission and Distribution.” The aim is to improve the ways that power grids take advantage of multiple intermittent energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, borrowing some ideas from packet-switched communication (the essential idea behind the Internet.) Sumit is an outstanding teacher, with large graduate classes and very high student course evaluations; in fact, he has been recognized by the university through induction into the Michigan Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence. I recently did a little back-of the-envelope calculation, and discovered to my delight that, considering tuition revenue, course evaluations, and research expenditures, Sumit has made himself the third most valuable member of the ECE Department!

I get to work with a lot of wonderful people every day – our faculty, our staff, and our students. These four are among the best. We are proud to call them our own here in the ECE Department, and I look forward to many years of a mutual rewarding relationship.

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Fridays with Fuhrmann: A Movie Pick

(Photo: Hollywood Reporter)
(Photo: Hollywood Reporter)

A few weeks ago my family and I went to see “Hidden Figures.” This movie traces the story of three African-American women in their struggle for opportunity and recognition as mathematicians and engineers in the early days of NASA’s Mercury space program. The story takes place in a time when NASA employed a large number of “computers” which in those days meant, literally, “people who compute.” Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine (Goble) Johnson, a mathematician who calculated spacecraft flight trajectories and ultimately played a critical role in the success of the John Glenn’s pioneering flight, orbiting the Earth – all while battling an organization that refused to give credit for her contributions, and having to walk a half mile in heels to the “colored” bathroom. Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson, an aspiring engineer who identifies a problem with the capsule’s heat shield, and who eventually goes on to a career as an aeronautical engineer and engineering manager at NASA. Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, the unofficial supervisor for a group of female African-American “computers” who fought for recognition as a real supervisor and, after learning FORTRAN and becoming familiar with the new IBM computers that were installed to replace their human counterparts, eventually became supervisor of the Programming Department. I found the movie engaging and entertaining, and recommend it highly.

Even before seeing this, from the trailers it brought to mind two other movies about people struggling to make their contributions in the face of overt discrimination. One was “42”, the story of Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first African-American in Major League Baseball. I was mildly disappointed in this movie. Of course the historical story line is compelling, and the movie was well-acted and well-directed, but there were no surprises. The story arc was a straight line from beginning to end and most of the action was pretty predictable, especially to those with a cursory knowledge of baseball. The screenplay practically wrote itself.

I was even more disappointed in “The Imitation Game”, about Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician and essentially the founder of modern computer science, who played a central role in the decrypting Nazi intelligence codes for the British in World War II. After the war Turing was outed for being gay, prosecuted for “gross indecency”, and eventually committed suicide in 1954 at age 41. Again, the movie was very well made and was a commercial success. However, it had quite a number of historical inaccuracies which distort his relationships both during and after the war. At least, that is what I have read – this is one of those cases where everything I know I learned on the Internet. What I have read, however, is consistent with the way I felt after seeing the movie. Somehow it did not ring true, that the filmmakers were trying too hard to portray historical events in the context of modern sensibilities. (My mother, who is something of a Civil War history buff, felt the exact same way about Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”)

So, going into “Hidden Figures” I was prepared for an entertaining but not particularly deep piece of fluff. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was completely pulled in to the story of these three women, and the juxtaposition of something that I cannot identify with (the struggles of African-American women) with something that I can (engineering and mathematics). Granted, there are parts of the history that are slightly altered for dramatic effect, but that is to be expected in any docudrama. I have not read any major complaints about historical inaccuracy. Katherine Johnson did go on to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, was married 50 years to the soldier who courted her during the Mercury program (also depicted in the movie) and has a building named after her at Langley Research Center. Mary Jackson became NASA’s first black female engineer. Their story reflects the stories of countless other women and African-Americans who are pioneers in the STEM fields, blazing a trail for the modern generation of students and STEM professionals. I left the theater inspired and proud to be an engineer.

In addition to the central story line of the movie, there were two other messages that I absolutely loved. One is that an engineering education is something worth fighting for. For me the most moving scene in the movie was when Mary Jackson went before a judge and made her case, successfully, for why she should be allowed to take University of Virginia night-school engineering classes alongside the male students at all-white Hampton High School. Of course, these days no one should have to fight to be allowed to study engineering. The doors of Michigan Tech, like those of all engineering schools in the United States, are open to those who have prepared themselves and are willing to work hard. We can be proud of that, but we also have to recognize it would not be true without the efforts of many like those depicted in this movie.

The other message that I appreciated was one that had nothing to do with the social context, but was about engineering in general and the importance of getting things right the first time. When the flight engineers are determining the exact point in John Glenn’s flight when he goes from an elliptical orbit to the parabolic trajectory that will bring him back to the Earth – the “go/no-go” point – Katherine is pulled in to make sure that the calculations are absolutely correct. It brought to mind Ed Harris’ famous admonition in “Apollo 13” – failure is not an option! Any errors in the calculation would have meant a failure of the mission and the loss of an American hero. I was really happy to see that little message in there, and I hope all the budding engineers and mathematicians in the audience were paying attention.

Bottom line – wonderful movie; any STEM students (meaning 85% of Michigan Tech) would get a kick out of it. Two thumbs up!

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Michigan Tech Responds

FWF_image_20170203I am setting aside the draft of the column I was working on for this week, so that I can write a few words in response to the president’s executive order temporarily banning people from seven countries from entering the United States. This order has had an immediate and significant impact across all of American higher education, including Michigan Tech. The impact has both a humanitarian dimension, in terms of the damage it is doing to our international students, scholars, and their families, and a practical dimension, in terms of the research, scholarship, and enrollment at institutions of higher learning nationwide.

This past Wednesday the University Senate of Michigan Tech passed a “Sense of the Senate” resolution on this same issue. I am not a member of the Senate and thus cannot vote, but nevertheless I was at the meeting. I agree with the resolution and support it. In fact, it reflects my own thoughts well enough that I will simply use it here, verbatim.

The first sentence of the resolution mentions that the Senate is a non-political body. I also affirmed two weeks ago that I would not use this column as a forum for my own political views. This raises an interesting question – what exactly is political? If I were to advocate for a candidate or a political party in an election, that would be unambiguously political and I am not going to do it. However, if I respond to actions of our government, whose officials have already been elected, which has ramifications for me and my community, then we are in more of a gray area – made more gray by the fact that all of the actors are on one side of the political spectrum. Having pondered this a while, my position is this: commenting on issues of law and policy that affect me, my colleagues, our students, and what we do for a living every day, is not political. It is my right and my duty as a citizen and an academic leader at Michigan Tech. I am commenting on the issues, not the people who created them.

In what is given below, I have removed a couple of short paragraphs I consider more internal to Michigan Tech, messages from the Senate to the university administration. Again, my purpose here is to use the words prepared by Senate members that I find accurately and eloquently represent my own position.

Here then is the (slightly edited) Sense of the Senate resolution, adopted Wednesday, February 1, 2017:

“Resolution in Support of our International Colleagues and Students”
(Voting Units: Full Senate)

*Background*

The University Senate of Michigan Technological University acknowledges that it is a non-political body. However, when external political events have an impact on its constituents and on the academic life at Michigan Technological University, the Senate has the obligation to address the issues at hand.

*Rationale*

The Senate agrees that President Trump’s Executive Order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” causes severe distress among the international employees and students of Michigan Technological University, and has a serious negative impact on the academic life at the university. Examples of these are, but are not limited to, international faculty being unable or scared to travel to international conferences or conduct their international research, international students being unable or scared to participate in studies abroad, faculty and students being unable or scared to plan visits to family members abroad, distressed students in the classroom, and reduced scholarly output of the people impacted. This in turn will have serious adverse effects on Michigan Technological University’s academic productivity.

*Resolution*

The Senate recognizes that the international character of this workplace is an important strength of Michigan Technological University. Michigan Technological University is proud to be an inclusive workplace welcoming employees and students from all backgrounds.

The Senate expresses strong support to all employees and students affected by the above mentioned executive order. The Senate recognizes that the group of employees and students affected by the executive order ranges beyond those originating from the seven countries directly targeted by the executive order, and in fact has an impact on everyone in our university community, because when one group is targeted we are all made vulnerable.The Senate will work to guarantee that adverse affects stemming from this order, such as reduced international mobility, are not used against anyone impacted (for example in decisions on tenure and/or promotion).

The Senate supports President Mroz’s statement: “I can’t relieve the distress that many of you might be feeling as a result of this and other events of the recent past. But what I can say is that with your help, we can, and we will, as the Michigan Tech Community, advocate for respect, understanding and compassion in the way we treat each other regardless of our differences. We can and we will defend the Constitutional rights of all in the Michigan Tech community. And we can and we will treasure and protect the free and open exchange that is essential to scholarship, research and creativity. By remaining committed to these core values we can all help to ensure that Michigan Tech remains a community that is open to people from across our nation and around the world.”

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Inauguration Day Reflections

FWF_image_20170120Well folks, here we are – January 20, 2017, the end of one remarkable era in American politics and beginning of a new one that promises to be even more remarkable.

Readers of this blog can probably figure out which way I lean, but I do not want to use this site as a forum to air my own political views. As a spokesman for the ECE Department at Michigan Tech, where one can find a diversity of opinions on social and political matters, it just wouldn’t be appropriate. I will say this: I believe in our democratic system of government, and our capitalist system for organizing economic activity, and I also believe in the goodwill of most of the American people most of the time. There will be those in the next four years who will seek ways to take advantage of the shifting political landscape for their own personal gain and to the detriment of the American people, but I suppose this can be said of any era. As always, we need to be good citizens – the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and that applies internally as well as externally.

What would be appropriate at this time is for me to consider what I can do, along with the ECE Department and all the rest of Michigan Tech, to be a positive contribution to our nation, our society, and the State of Michigan in the next few years. This election told us a lot about the electorate, including some things that may have caught a lot of people by surprise, and so now is a really good time to re-examine how an institution like Michigan Tech fits in.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that the nation is really divided right now (wouldn’t it be ironic if we can’t even agree on that…). I’m not even sure if “divided” is the right word; maybe “fractured” is more like it. Part of this is due to economic and social forces that I will mention later, but unfortunately it is also due to the way we use technology to communicate with one another. Our use of mass media, social media, and the Internet allows each of us to be very selective about where we get our news and whose opinion we listen to. If we choose to, we can all live in our own bubbles where our own views and preferences are reinforced, and opposing points of view are not heard. This is not altogether a result of our own actions either – any number of our major sources of information, like Google, Facebook, or Amazon, have become very good at tailoring the information we see to our individual preferences. Some of this is very cool – for example, I do appreciate learning from Amazon about a musical artist I might really like – but the flip side of that coin is never having to hear something that conflicts with my worldview. As many readers know, I am an evangelist for electrical and computer engineering and all the benefits we have brought to society in the past century, but putting everyone in their own bubble is not one of those benefits. Another closely related thing I worry about is this: now that the Internet has brought about widespread access to information, which is a good thing, it has also brought about widespread access to misinformation, which is a very bad thing. I am not sure if electrical and computer engineers are the ones to grapple with this problem, but clearly it is happening on the systems we created.

Aside from the technology story, I think a larger issue for us at a place like Michigan Tech to consider is how our U.S. educational system shapes and influences our society. I have been in higher education for virtually my entire career, and so I have to believe that what we are doing is good. I do believe that. The American system of higher education is the mechanism by which thousands of young adults find out who they are and how they will make their way in the world. Our system is the envy of the world – far more students come from abroad to study in U.S. colleges and universities than the other way around. We are a major economic driver: the research coming out of university laboratories leads to new innovations, new businesses, and new economic opportunities for a large swath of the population. I can attest that there is no better place to work than a good college or university.

But…there is another side to this story. Yes, our universities are great, but do they serve everyone in the nation? I am not suggesting that everyone should go to college. I opposed, and continue to oppose, the idea that was floated during the 2016 election campaign that college should be universally free of charge. Not everyone should aspire to go to college, and making it free would greatly distort that decision process. People who for good reasons choose not to go to college should have the same respect as everyone else and have a decent shot at the American Dream. That being said, there are still ways that our higher education system can benefit all of our society. If those that have the intelligence, the talent, and the ambition to attend college can do so, and then use their expanded knowledge and skills to benefit all through creating businesses, designing products and systems, getting engaged in civic affairs, and generally being a part of the community that is the United States, then great. Unfortunately I often see something else happening: smart people come to college, they meet other smart people, they graduate and hang out with more smart people, they get married and have smart kids, and eventually they segregate themselves completely from the communities they came from. When that happens, our system of higher education is not living up to its promise. We hear a lot about segregation along ethnic lines, along class lines, and along wealth lines, but I believe that over the past century there has also been a segregation along the lines of intellectual ability, and I would suggest that this as much anything has led us to the divided America that we see today.

In one short blog entry I have touched on two pretty major topics that are relevant today: how technology influences society, and the rise of the cognitive elite. I hope you will forgive me for bringing them up and then saying so little. Entire books could be written about both topics – plenty of people have done just that – and I will continue exploring these ideas with you in future columns. In the meantime, I will close by saying that I am grateful to live in a country where the peaceful transfer of power that I just witnessed a few moments ago can happen, and that we have the opportunity to pursue our dreams regardless of the party in power. What happens in Washington has an impact on our lives, but it does not determine our lives. Reminding ourselves of that may be one of the best things we can do today, for people anywhere along the political spectrum.

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Accelerating our MS Program

FWF_image_20170113The ECE Department at Michigan Tech has a long and distinguished history in undergraduate education, having prepared over 8000 engineering students for meaningful careers since its inception in 1928. The times are changing, however, and Michigan Tech is changing as well. Some 40% of the engineering students in the United States now are graduate students, seeking MS and PhD degrees. Our programs have been evolving over the past 2-3 decades to respond to this changing demographic and to respond to the needs of the marketplace. Today our graduate programs are just as important in defining who we are and what we do as our undergraduate programs. This is not to say that we are building graduate programs just to respond to outside forces – in today’s world, a thriving academic engineering department is one in which undergraduate education, graduate education, and faculty-led research all co-exist in synergistic harmony.

The nature of our graduate programs is evolving over time as well. There are actually two distinct flavors of graduate study – that leading to the degree Master of Science (MS) and that leading to the degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). The PhD is the real research degree, where in effect we train our own replacements in the research community. It is a fairly long and arduous process of discovery – and self-discovery – involving close cooperation and collaboration between a student and his or her faculty advisor. The MS degree, on the other hand, provides students an opportunity to get advanced training and skills beyond what they learned as undergraduates, so that they can take on more technically challenging projects and become more valuable engineers for their employers or potential employers. There can be some research associated with the MS degree, and that possibility still exists at Michigan Tech. However, today the MS degree, under what we call the “coursework option” looks more and more like an advanced undergraduate degree, requiring 30 credits of advanced coursework beyond the baccalaureate.

In the ECE Department at Michigan Tech, we have been making steady progress in a concerted effort to grow our PhD program. We have a goal to graduate 10 PhD candidates each year, on average, and in our last 3-year goal cycle 2011-2014 we met that goal exactly. The growth of the PhD program happens in parallel with, but is not synonymous with, the growth of our faculty-led and externally supported research activity. The MS programs we have in electrical engineering (EE) and computer engineering (CpE) did not receive that much attention from the viewpoint of strategic goals, but we knew it was important to have a comprehensive slate of high-quality graduate courses so that we could meet the coursework needs of MS and PhD students alike. Then an interesting thing happened – our MS enrollment took off, totally out of proportion to our expectations! Our enrollment quadrupled over the past 10 years, doubling from 2005 to 2010 and doubling again from 2010 to 2015. In the Fall 2015 semester we had 200 MS students enrolled in the ECE Department, something that neither we nor anyone else at Michigan Tech would have predicted just a few years ago. Of course, we are delighted and gratified to see this level of interest in our programs, and are doing everything we can to meet the student demand.

One of things we have decided to do in response to this “success disaster” is create a new position of Graduate Academic Advisor. Many of these students are international and are new to Michigan Tech when they arrive. At the undergraduate level, the ECE Department has one and a half academic advisors – one full-time who advises 400 students, and one half-time who advises 200 students, roughly. (Aside: hats off to undergraduate advisors Judy Donahue and Trever Hassell, who do an outstanding job.) Using the logic that our 200 or so MS students also need dedicated professional advising, from someone with an academic engineering background, we proposed that the ECE Department create a position that was half-time advising and half-time teaching of advanced courses in areas where we needed to grow. Our proposal was approved by the university administration last summer. I am delighted to report that a successful search was conducted in the fall, and that we have identified the perfect person for the job – Dr. John Pakkala, currently of Milwaukee but soon to be back in the Upper Peninsula. I will have more to say about John after he joins the department this July.

Another aspect of our MS program that needs some attention is the diversity of the student population, in terms of country of origin and also technical area of interest. Right now we have an interesting situation in which the vast majority of our MS students are international, and are interested in power and energy. We can only guess how this situation came to be, although my guess is that it has a lot to do with the efforts of Prof. Bruce Mork and Prof. Leonard Bohmann over ten years ago to put all of our graduate courses in power and energy online. No doubt that created a lot of visibility and notoriety for that part of the Department. There is of course nothing wrong with having a lot of students from abroad – we love our international students and all that they do to create a rich cultural tapestry here at Michigan Tech. At the same time, however, many of our industry partners have openings for positions that require U.S. citizenship. We would also be meeting the needs of a lot of American students themselves by convincing them that an advanced degree would be in their own best interest, and in the interest of the state of Michigan. Therefore, one of our goals right now is to have the growth of the American side of MS student population mirror the growth of the international population.

A few years ago the university quietly created a program intended to do just that, to increase the number of U.S. students in our MS programs, by creating an incentive for our own undergraduates – primarily U.S. citizens – to stay for an extra year and earn that graduate degree. It is called the Accelerated Master of Science program. The crux of the program is this: while the BS degree requires a minimum of 128 credits, and the MS degree 30 credits, students in the Accelerated MS program may double-count 6 credits to apply toward both degrees simultaneously. This brings the total number of credits for the combined BS/MS package down to 152. It’s not a bad deal, and one to which we hope our undergraduates give serious consideration.

This year, under the leadership of the new Dean of the Graduate School, Pushpalatha Murthy, the Graduate School has decided to make a more concerted effort to promote the Accelerated MS programs across the university. The Graduate School is upping the ante by creating a financial incentive in the form of a one-time tuition award for students in their first semester of the MS part of the program. This award, called the Graduate Award for Academic Excellence, or GAEA, requires a nomination by the academic department, with the sole criterion being academic merit. In the ECE Department we are grateful to the Graduate School for recognizing the importance of the program and are optimistic that over the next few years we will be successful in our efforts to continue growing our MS program, in both size and breadth.

This column may not be the best venue for promoting the Accelerated MS program, since I have no idea how many of the readers are our own undergraduates (probably not many). Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to put it out there. Spread the word: the ECE Department at Michigan Tech has a graduate program that all our stakeholders can be proud of, and we are doing everything we can to make it better.

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Fridays with Fuhrmann: A New Year

image_20170106Happy New Year once again to all the followers of the ECE Department at Michigan Tech! Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and productive 2017.

I learned earlier this week that 2017 is a prime number. 2016, on the other hand, has prime factors 2,2,2,2,2,3,3,7. I presume this means we can expect 2017 to be far less divisive than 2016. (I wish I could say I made that up. Credit goes to engineer and comedian Don McMillan, from his weekly e-mail blast.)

Houghton is in the grips of a week-long snow event, not all that unusual for this time of year. Temperatures have dipped down into the positive single digits, and we are getting a slow but steady influx of lake-effect snow. At these temperatures the snow is really light and powdery, so much so that you barely see it in front of your face, until you look up and realize the visibility is like a quarter mile, almost like fog. We can tell it is lake effect snow, since every once in a while one can see the sun trying to poke through. Essentially since there are no clouds – just snow. The skiing should be amazing this weekend if this ever lets up.

I heard about someone in town who has a Dalmatian who got lost out on the ski trails during the heaviest part of the storm. It hasn’t been spotted since. (OK, that one I did make up.)

All seriousness aside…

Let’s talk about resolutions for the new year. I have my personal ones, given some extra weight by the fact that I have a milestone birthday coming up in 2017. We don’t need to go into details; they can best be summarized as “be a better human being.”

In the ECE Department, a good new year’s resolution would be the continued pursuit of, and a renewed commitment to, our strategic goals. Strategic planning and goal setting are part of what we do all the time, in an effort to be the best organization we know how to be. We seek to offer technically challenging and economically relevant educational programs for all our students, and to have those programs undergo a process of continuous improvement. In our research activity we want to provide meaningful solutions for some of our nation’s most pressing technological problems. In both domains, teaching and research, we want to be recognized for our accomplishments, like all academic departments. I believe that the recognition isn’t nearly as important as what we do, but on the other hand without the recognition it is difficult to attract the students and research funding that allow us to continue our work. Prospective students find out about us and judge us by things like the U.S. News and World Report rankings and similar measures, so if we are going to have the opportunity to make a difference in the world then we need to be well-positioned in such rankings.

Right now the ECE Department is nearing the end of a 3-year goal cycle, and in the middle of drafting the strategic goals and a strategic plan for the next three years (these cycles coincide with appointment term of the chair.) Our current goals are grouped into three categories: 1) faculty success and recognition, 2) quality and impact of graduate programs, and 3) quality and impact of undergraduate programs. There are a number of individual sub-goals within those three groups. I will not list all the sub-goals; although they are not secret in any way, they are really more appropriate for internal deliberations, and for discussion with groups like our ECE External Advisory Committee. I will say that some of the goals are fairly straightforward and easy, while others are “stretch” goals that give us something challenging to shoot for – like the size and funding levels for our PhD program, for example.

For most of the faculty our goals are fairly high level and appear somewhat disconnected from what we really get out of bed to do, day in and day out. For example, it is hard to think about a goal of an undergraduate enrollment of N students when one has to prepare the next lecture or grade a stack of exams. However, we all need to remember that “every little bit helps.” If we approach every task, no matter how large or small, with a commitment to quality and excellence then the sum of the parts will be a thriving department.

Sometimes there are critically important tasks that come along that are not really reflected in the goals at all. We have one of those task before us this year – our accreditation by ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. ABET is the independent organization that certifies the quality and consistency of all undergraduate engineering programs in the country, and every six years we have to go through an extensive process demonstrating that our Michigan Tech programs meet national standards for technical rigor and professional relevance. We are preparing all this year, and our efforts will culminate in a lengthy self-study report and a personal review by ABET visitors sometime in the fall. I am happy to say that we were successful in our last visit, in 2010, but of course we will need to work just as hard this year to ensure the same level of success. I am confident that, with the concerted efforts of our ECE ABET Coordinator, John Lukowski, the College of Engineering Associate Dean Leonard Bohmann, and the full and enthusiastic cooperation of all the ECE faculty and staff we will do just fine. So, right up there with our strategic goals, I am putting ABET accreditation on the list of new year’s resolutions for the ECE Department.

I hope all readers are successful with your own resolutions this year. I also hope that those resolutions include some form of engagement with the Michigan Tech ECE Department. Let me know what I can do to help!

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University