We are happy to share with you our newly released ECE Annual Report 2017. A look back at our past year highlights research activities from nine of our faculty members in the area of mobility, along with graduate students Mojtaba Bahramgiri, Derek Chopp, and Mehdi Jafari. We share in the good news received during the year in which three of our assistant professors received major early career awards: Lucia Gauchia and Zhaohui Wang received National Science Foundation CAREER awards and Jeremy Bos received the US Air Force Young Investigator Program award. We highlight two of our many outstanding undergraduate students, Brian Flanagan and Casey Strom, for accomplishments and contributions during their BS degree studies. This May we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first female graduate of the Michigan Tech EE department, Pat Anthony. Pat was honored by the University during spring commencement and was also inducted into the ECE Academy. Once again the year included a wide variety of hands-on student projects in our Senior Design and Enterprise programs and we thank our sponsors for making it all possible! We invite you to read about these stories and more. From all of us at ECE, happy holidays and best wishes for 2018!
The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering announced its award recipients for 2016-2017 at the Annual ECE Graduate Student Banquet held on September 25. Aref Majdara received the Jonathan Bara Award for Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant and Navid Gandji received the Matt Wolfe Award for Outstanding Graduate Research Assistant.
Dr. Glen Archer, ECE associate chair and TA supervisor said in his nomination “Aref is one of those rare students who seems to excel at everything you ask him to do. He has worked as a TA for several years in a variety of different courses and received praise from the students in every case.” Archer stated that Aref’s performance in the Circuits lab “revealed a quiet patience that motivates students to perform at their best” and in the more difficult to staff labs such as Microcontroller, Embedded System Engineering, and Signal Processing, “Aref accepted these challenges in the same way he faces everything, with purposeful resolve and a relentless pursuit of excellence”. Mr. Majdara’s PhD advisor is Prof. Saeid Nooshabadi.
Dr. Elena Semouchkina, ECE associate professor and PhD advisor stated in her nomination for outstanding GRA, “Navid Gandji’s research features two important aspects: (1) novelty at the frontiers of engineering physics and (2) addressing vital societal needs. Navid’s work is in a very competitive field of artificial materials, including photonic crystals and metamaterials, which were named by the American Physical Society as one of the top three physics discoveries of the first decade of the new century. His work comprises theoretical studies, full-wave electromagnetic simulations, and experiments on a unique automatic microwave field mapping fixture, which he helped to develop and advance.” Overall, during his PhD studies, Navid has authored and co-authored 4 journal papers, 4 more papers are in preparation. He has also authored and co-authored 5 published refereed conference proceedings and made two presentations at the IEEE International Symposium on Antennas and Propagation, the major forum in the field.
The ECE Department congratulates Aref and Navid and appreciates their many contributions to the department, university, and their field.
Husband and wife graduate students have won honors from Tech’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Mohsen Jamalabdollahi was named Outstanding Graduate Research Assistant, and his wife, Sakineh Yazdanparast, was recognized as the ECE Department’s Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant.
Sakineh Yazdanparast (ECE) and Timothy Havens (ECE/CS) coauthored the article, “Modularity Maximization Using Completely Positive Programming,” in Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications.
Recent ECE Ph.D. graduate, Dr. Yang Liu, who studied under Prof. Shiyan Hu, Director of the Center for Cyber-Physical Systems, has joined Carnegie Mellon University as a Postdoctoral Researcher. Yang Liu joined the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech as a Ph.D. student after he received his B.S. degree from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China. Under the supervision of Prof. Shiyan Hu, his research focuses on smart home cyber-physical energy systems. The massive deployment of smart devices offers significant convenience on the remote and automatic control of the homes. Yet, it also makes the home vulnerable to cyberattacks. Yang has analyzed various cyberattacks to hack smart home systems for electricity pricing manipulation and energy theft. His work shows how these attacks could generate huge impacts to the power grid including the drastic increase of cost, interference of energy load and frequency, and even the large area blackout.
Well, here we are at the end of yet another academic year at Michigan Tech. Last week saw a flurry of activity leading up to to commencement, so much so that I overlooked writing this very column! (I doubt if anyone missed it, but if you did you will make me feel good.)
A lot of parents and other family members came to town on Friday. I got to meet many of them at a reception for ECE students that we host here in the department, followed by another university-wide reception hosted by President Glenn Mroz and his wife Gail. Most of our students have good jobs lined up, as one might expect with the strong demand for electrical and computer engineers that I have written about before. I was struck this year by the handful of students who did not have definitive plans for the immediate future. I did not get a sense of concern about this at all, it was just that students were so busy doing other things that they had not yet mounted a serious job search. I am not at all worried about the availability of good jobs out there, only about the complacency (for a small minority) that comes with being in a seller’s market.
Saturday was the big day. For me it started at 7:30am with the commissioning of the ROTC candidates. This year Michigan Tech had 11 graduating students assume their first positions as 2nd lieutenants in either the Army or the Air Force. Two of those were ECE students, Carrie Shuler and Michael Bartkowiak. I congratulate them and thank them for their service. The main commencement in the Student Development Center was at 10:30am, and this year with 993 students graduating and walking across the stage it turned into a 3-hour and 10-minute affair. Our commencement speaker, Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, reminded us to look for the good in all people and to consider the satisfaction of a life of service. Despite all the pomp and circumstance, and the long wait for the last student to get his diploma and get off the stage, it really is a great moment in the life of the university and one that always leaves me energized.
This year, including the Fall 2015 commencement, the ECE Department granted 72 BSEE degrees and 34 BSCpE degrees, for a total of 106 undergraduates degrees. That number is a little low for us, 26 fewer than last year. With 169 new undergraduates predicted to enter next year, we should see a big jump in the total undergraduate enrollment in the fall. On the graduate side, we produced 95 MS degrees and 3 PhD degrees, for a net increase in 4. Our MS numbers are up, but the PhD degrees are down, which is a concern considering our strategic plan to graduate 10 PhD students per year. However, I am told we have 12 PhD students ready to finish up this summer. The department is going to be hopping this summer if that comes to fruition!
As we wrap up the year I like to take a few moments and recognize a few people that do an outstanding job of teaching, research, and service in the ECE Department. I will repeat here some of the acknowledgements I made at the last faculty meeting of the year three days ago. On the teaching side, I like to recognize faculty members that handle very large classes and still get very good to excellent student teaching evaluations; these include Glen Archer, Duane Bucheger, Bruce Mork, Ashok Ambardar, and John Lukowski. I also want to congratulate faculty members with student course evaluations very close to 5 on a 0-5 scale in small and medium-sized classes: Tim Schulz, Ashok Ambardar, and Warren Perger in undergraduate courses and Joshua Pearce, Wayne Weaver, and Tim Havens in graduate courses. Thank you all for a job well done!
One of the key metrics that we use in evaluating the strength of our research programs is the number of PhD students supported by external grants and contracts. Our goal is to have 50% of the PhD students on external support, and while we are not there yet we get a little closer every year. This year we had 23 students supported by 13 different faculty members, both numbers larger than we have seen in quite a while. The faculty members are: Feng, Guney, Havens, Hu, Middlebrook, Mork, Nooshabadi, Roggemann, Semouchkina, Ten, Wang, Weaver, and Zekavat. Special recognition goes to Prof. Christopher Middlebrook for having the largest research expenditures in the department this year. Nice going Chris!
A special acknowledgement goes to our relatively new Graduate Program Coordinator Joan Becker, for the extraordinary job she has done in meeting the needs of our graduate students. Our program has seen tremendous growth in recent years, and we do not have a faculty or staff position dedicated to academic advising for everyday things like making sure all the degree requirements are being met and the appropriate forms are turned in. This task has fallen to Joan, and she has really gone above and beyond taking care of the steady stream of students outside her door.
Another person I need to recognize is ECE faculty member Ashok Ambardar, one of our absolute top instructors. Prof. Ambardar is old school: he likes to lecture with chalk on a blackboard, assign regular weekly homeworks, and give regular paper-and-pencil exams, just like he has done his entire career. Students love him. Ashok had an amazing Fall 2015 semester, in terms of student enrollments and responses. He taught three courses – one sophomore, one junior, one senior – with enrollments of 76, 73, and 11, and bottom-line student course evaluations of 4.51, 4.37 and 4.82 out of 5. Prof. Ambardar goes about his work quietly and does not seek a lot of attention, but I hope he knows how much we all appreciate everything he does.
Finally, I want to recognize Senior Lecturer Kit Cischke, this year’s Eta Kappa Nu Professor of the Year. Kit is another amazing instructor, someone who shoulders a lot of the teaching responsibility in our computer engineering program. He teaches courses in microcontrollers, hardware/software integration, and computer networks, and is the faculty advisor for the Wireless Communications Enterprise. His many students realize what an impact he has on their lives and here in the ECE Department. Congratulations Kit on being recognized by our students and thank you for everything you do!
I think that’s about it for this year – students have cleared out, and spring has returned to the Keweenaw. Have a great summer everyone!
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University
The last couple of weeks I have written about entrepreneurship, management, and leadership in engineering and engineering education. I have a few more thoughts about this topic, and next week I’ll move on to something else.
Last week I said that I support education in entrepreneurship and innovation for ECE students, but that I don’t have much to offer in that arena so I’ll have to leave it up to someone else. I also made the case for an education that emphasizes engineering fundamentals first, and the other more human-centered activity later. I stand by those remarks, although I will admit there is plenty of room for debate. This past weekend I heard a lot of that debate at the annual meeting of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association, or ECEDHA (yes, there really is such a group.) A lot of universities and engineering schools are introducing entrepreneurship into the curriculum, so Michigan Tech is not alone in this venture and we can probably learn a lot from our peers.
My first point will be to encourage 5-year programs for students that really want to do it all. The standard undergraduate engineering program is four years, and at Michigan Tech that means 128 student credit hours – 32 per year, 16 per semester. The pressure is on to cram as much stuff as we possibly can in those 128 credit hours. We certainly contribute to that problem by our insistence on rigorous EE and CpE programs that have a lot of courses required by name and number. I still maintain this is the right approach, since the best time to learn that material is when one are 18 to 22 years old, and we have a whole lifetime to keep learning about relationships with other people, how organizations work, and how to turn ideas into money. For those students that want to combine engineering with business, then I think the best approach is to admit that four years is just not enough, and the investment of another year of early adult life in education may be called for. This creates some breathing room, and also an opening to pursue an additional degree. This degree could be a second undergraduate degree such as a BS in Engineering Management, or an advanced technical degree such as our MS in Electrical Engineering or MS in Computer Engineering. At Michigan Tech we have recently introduced the “accelerated” MS program, where students can double-count 6 credits toward both a BS and an MS degree, thereby getting both the BS and MS in 152 total credits instead of 158 (128+30). Not that many students are taking advantage of this opportunity to date, but that is mostly the result of our not doing enough to promote the program. That is certainly on my to-do list.
For students who want to go “all in” for engineering management and leadership, I strongly recommend a rigorous undergraduate engineering education first, working a few years as an engineer in a reputable organization, and then returning to school either full-time or part-time to earn an MBA. The Engineering + MBA combination is a very hot ticket and students who can get all the way through both sides will find themselves very well positioned for a lucrative career. What I don’t really recommend is a stand-alone undergraduate program in engineering management. Michigan Tech has one of these programs, and so I’m probably going to get in trouble for writing these words. I’m just not a big fan. I believe that the first step toward engineering management is engineering, which means knowing what the field is and actually having work experience in it. I will bolster this argument by pointing out that undergraduate engineering majors are very well-represented among Fortune 500 CEOs; see Insead Knowledge blog. Again, this is one of these areas where there is room for debate, so if any of my colleagues want to take issue with my remarks I will be happy to give them room in this column to do so.
Finally, let me mention the hot-button issue of General Education, or “Gen Ed” as it is often called. This refers to the set of courses that are included in the curriculum to ensure a well-rounded education of all the students. In many institutions the Gen Ed program refers to the requirements that are common to all students, and this is the case at Michigan Tech. Now I am all for a well-rounded education, and believe that all students should have a meaningful learning experience in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. This helps to promote good critical thinking and communication skills. Like a lot of electrical engineers, I am an amateur musician and that has made a huge difference for me personally in giving me a broad outlook on life, not to mention expanding my circle of friends. Where I have problems with Gen Ed programs is that those in charge of setting requirements often give short shrift to business-related courses, which really can be a part of a broad education and at the same time create some room in the 4-year engineering programs for those with interests in business, economics, and accounting. So, I will continue pushing for a “broader” interpretation of what Gen Ed means, and hopefully our ECE students will benefit in the long term.
Have a great weekend. I’ll be back next week with some thoughts stirred up by the recent ECEDHA meeting.
Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University
Last week I wrote about my trip to the San Francisco and Bay Area and the culture of high-tech innovation that is flourishing there. Today I will follow up with a few random thoughts about entrepreneurship and the role that universities play in this world.
There is no doubt that entrepreneurship and start-up companies are huge in Silicon Valley. There is a whole eco-system of universities (most notably Stanford), venture capital, incubators, and a wealth of engineering talent to keep the Valley humming. Everybody and his brother has some venture going, in fact you’re nobody if you’re not trying to create some new business. It’s as if, in southern California, everyone is out trying to hawk their amazing screenplay, and in northern California, everyone has an idea for an Internet start-up that they will pitch to anyone who will listen. Everyone is aware of the meteoric rise of Apple, Google, and Facebook – Steve Jobs has become a cultural icon – and the prevailing sentiment is, there is no good reason that I can’t do the same thing and become a bazillionaire with my fantastic disruptive technology.
This is sort of an aside, but this whole culture of entrepreneurship is brilliantly depicted in the hilarious HBO series “Silicon Valley”, about to go into its third season. The show follows a group of engineering misfits (aren’t we all) with a great algorithm for video coding, all living and working under one roof, as they navigate the choppy waters of venture capitalists, big-time competitors, trade shows, and misguided management. I highly recommend it, although it is HBO so be prepared for the usual cable standards of adult language and themes. I have had a number of good conversations in California about the show, and everyone has an opinion. Many will say “it’s nothing like that!” but just as many will nod knowingly and say “it’s exactly like that.”
But back to matters at hand. The culture of entrepreneurship which has taken California by storm and has become part of the national conversation, is having a big impact on engineering programs, especially in electrical engineering and computer science. It is now clear that starting a company is now one of the options available to young engineers, right alongside getting a job at an established company or going to graduate school. The question is, what can we do, and what should we do, as educators to prepare students for this brave new world?
Michigan Tech is addressing this question head-on. We have established a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, precisely to help students learn about project management, innovation, entrepreneurship, and business practices in the high-tech environment. Students from all different disciplines have the opportunity to participate in the Center, and indeed it played a role in the “Silicon Valley Experience” that I described last week. The Center is getting a lot of attention from philanthropically-minded alumni, and rightly so. I expect it to be a big success, and a big draw for new students coming to Michigan Tech.
That being said, my personal answer to what we should be doing for our students is a little bit different. I have to admit, straight up, that I do not know that world very well (OK, at all) and therefore I really can’t be of much help. I fully support my colleagues and our good friends who want to support this activity, but for the most part they are going to have to do it without me. Maybe someday I’ll have a great idea and try to start a business, but it hasn’t happened yet, and I shouldn’t be telling students how to do it until I do. (That’s not entirely true – for a while I owned a business in Missouri called “Tropical Entertainment” that was the business front for a salsa band that I played in. But that’s a story for another column.) My skills are much better put to use helping students learn the fundamentals of electrical engineering, and supporting my faculty so that we can be the best ECE Department that we know how to being terms of education and research.
The other point I have to make about going “all in” with entrepreneurship is that, as exciting as it sounds, only a small fraction of our students are ever going to give it a shot. The vast majority of our students are going to work for an established company as an engineer, and they are going to be very good at it. The 300+ companies that come to campus to hire our students are well aware of this. Taking this a step further, I’m not going to throw all those corporate recruiters under the bus by telling them that our main goal is to train students to start their own businesses. People study engineering for all sorts of reasons. Our mission should be to prepare students in electrical and computer engineering, so that they can go out into the world, practice their trade, and make a decent living. What they do after that is up to them. Starting a business is one of the options, to be sure, but the truth is that most of them will practice their engineering by working for someone else, and that’s perfectly OK with me.
My last point today has to do with the issue of when is the best time to get into the entrepreneurial game. As I stated above, I am supportive of my colleagues who want to bring that down into undergraduate educational programs. Where I draw the line, however, is in substituting business and entrepreneurship for hard-core engineering at the undergraduate level. There is a time and a place for everything, and let’s face it, the best time to learn science, math, and engineering is when you are young. Young brains are just ready for it. Those same brains may not be fully developed for mature social interactions, but that’s OK, there is time enough for that later. Business, management, leadership, entrepreneurship – these are domains that require knowledge of working with people as well as working with things, and for many that knowledge comes with a few extra years. My advice to students is, before you get stars in your eyes, LEARN ENGINEERING FIRST. It will serve you well later, no matter what you do. As a case in point, I look at all of our very – and I mean very – successful ECE alumni who have had fabulous careers as business leaders and entrepreneurships, and are promoting entrepreneurship on our campus so heavily. Ask them what they were doing when they were 22 years old, and the answer is uniformly the same – they were working as engineers.
Am I the only one who sees the irony in this situation? Engineering education and engineering practice at a young age is the best launch pad for anything our ambitious students want to accomplish in life.
So again, I fully support my colleagues who seek to bring exposure to entrepreneurship into our undergraduate curriculum; I think it’s great and very forward-looking. For my part, I’m going to keep doing what I do best – building educational programs for students that I fully expect to be among the very best electrical and computer engineers in the country.
Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University
There was electricity in the air last night at the MasterpiECE Mania student design competition hosted by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and IEEE. 16 teams competed in the annual event with prizes going to the top three teams. Actually four, as the judges concluded a tie for third.
This year’s event was sponsored by Whirlpool Corporation with a generous gift of $2,000 to help support cash prizes, partial project supply reimbursal, event promotion, and a pasta buffet prior to the evening’s demonstrations to thank all the team members for their time and effort in their creative innovations.
Here are the results:
- 1st place, $500: Physical Spectrum Analyzer by Matthew Linenfelser, Jerry Sommerfeld, Alex Herbst, and Matt Miller
- 2nd place, $300: Automatic Resistor Sorter by Peter Gorecki
- 3rd place, $200 (ea): Midi Orchestra by Joe Halford; Internet Enabled LED Controller by Alex Simon and Pierce Jensen
- Honorable mention: Arduino Uno Controlled Quadcopter by Cameron Burke; Rc Aircraft by Josh Gobrogge
A few details regarding the winning project: A spectrum analyzer is a device for analyzing a system of oscillations, especially sound, into its separate components. The “Winter Spectrum” uses small polystyrene particles and powerful fans to visualize an audio signal. Using a microprocessor (TI Tiva C Launchpad) the team was able to run a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) algorithm on an incoming line level audio signal. This separated the audio frequencies into “bins” which integer value represents the intensity of the certain frequency. Pulse width modulated (PWM) signals are fed to the fans under the acrylic enclosure. The beads then rise to the level that best represents the FFT frequency bin average.
MasterpiECE Mania began in 2009 with the goal of inciting creativity throughout the Michigan Tech community and fostering an appreciation for the ‘DIY’ aspect of modern electronics. Although the yearly MasterpiECE Mania competition is hosted by the Michigan Tech ECE department, it is open to all Michigan Tech Students regardless of major. This intra-disciplinary hack-a-thon competition challenges student to develop and build an electrical-based project that displays their skill and ingenuity.
I am writing today while en route back to Houghton after a week in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was participating in something that has become an annual Spring Break event, tagging along with 20 Michigan Tech students on a whirlwind tour we call the Silicon Valley Experience. Students from all different majors apply through an internal competition to take part. They visited 12 different companies over 4 days, learning all about the high-tech world of Silicon Valley and the entrepreneurial culture surrounding it. The list of companies includes household names – Apple, Google, Facebook – along with other established companies and new start-ups. There is a Michigan Tech connection at all these places, which helps to get our foot in the door. My time is split between visiting with Michigan Tech alumni, both old friends and new, and joining the students at company visits as my schedule allows. I want to give a shout-out here to our Director of Industry Program Development, Adam Johnson, for the terrific job he did at organizing the event and taking care of all the logistics.
After one of these trips to California I come away with so many impressions that I could easily fill two or three of these columns with my random thoughts. I just might.
First off, we all just have to admit that Silicon Valley is the center of the universe when it comes to innovation in the information technology space. There is no other place like it. It is brimming with all sorts of electrical engineers, computer engineers, software engineers, and entrepreneurs working to create the next big thing and disrupt last year’s technology, with the support of a massive economic engine of venture capital. Almost overnight, it seems, the technology created there has gone from a novelty to a necessity – search engines on Google, smart phones from Apple, social media on Facebook where these very words are being written. I can sit in an airport and be connected to family, friends, and work via a communication network called the Internet that hardly anyone imagined some 30-40 years ago. These are hugely powerful forces that have transformed our lives completely, and the pace of that change shows no signs of slowing down.
There is a lot of excitement and buzz surrounding these technological innovations, and as a result Silicon Valley attracts the best and brightest engineering talent. There are a lot of job opportunities, but even so the market can be pretty competitive as the top companies can afford to be pretty choosy. It’s like the song lyric about New York – if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. In fact, the analogy with Broadway is pretty apt, as job interviews have been transformed from conversations across a desk to auditions of actual programming and engineering skill. I understand the process can be pretty grueling. However, if one has what it takes, the salaries and perks are unmatched in the engineering world.
One immediate impression that I come away with is how the workplace itself has changed over the past decade. Google was on the leading edge, but their style has been picked up by most of the other established companies and newcomers. On this trip it seemed to me that Facebook is raising the bar even further. Every day is casual day. I don’t even bother packing a tie when I travel to California anymore; I wore the same pair of jeans all this week and half the time I was overdressed. More remarkable is the level of amenities available to employees – free food and drink 24/7, all you can eat, game rooms, music rooms, barber shops, bicycle repair, even medical care. The days of residential dormitories on or near the corporate campuses are not far away. The whole idea is to keep engineers and programmers at work and happy for hours on end, and not give them any reason to stop being productive. I get to sample this workplace style every so often because of a Google-sponsored research project I am on right now. I have to wonder what it would be like all the time – I guess one gets used to it – but for the few days at a time that I see it, I feel like I am living high on the hog. For the companies, it is clear that the cost of these amenities is far outweighed by the value of a productive employee.
I will bring this to a close here, and follow up in the next few weeks with my thoughts on 1) the culture of entrepreneurship in the high-tech world, 2) what universities like Michigan Tech should be doing to help students prepare for success, and 3) what can other regions of U.S., like the upper Midwest, learn from Silicon Valley. No doubt I’ll be trolling the Internet on my smartphone and checking in with social media to get some good material.
Daniel R. Fuhrmann, Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological Univerrsity