Fridays with Fuhrmann: Starting with Why, Part 1

FWF-image-20170522 It’s been a quiet week in Houghton, just like in Lake Wobegon I suppose. It seems like hardly anyone is around except for the few instructors we have teaching summer classes. The weather has been pretty lousy – cold, rainy, and windy – and even though the lawns around town are greening up, the leaves on the trees are still struggling to come out. The academic year is over but it is too early in the season to enjoy any summertime outdoor activities in the Keweenaw. It’s a perfect time to travel.

This is also a good time to take a breather to step back and think about the bigger picture at Michigan Tech. We have the search for a new president coming up next academic year, along with searches for three deans, in the College of Engineering, the College of Sciences and Arts, and the School of Technology. (I hasten to add here, as does our current Dean of Engineering Wayne Pennington: there is no crisis. Everyone just reached retirement age at the same time.) A lot of people are going to be taking a hard look at the kind of university we want to be as we move forward, and I count myself among them.

Thinking about strategic issues and traveling at the same time provides the opportunity to get in some extra reading, in airports, on planes, and by the hotel pool. As luck would have it my wife was reading the book Start with Why, by Simon Sinek, and she loaned it to me for my recent travels to Houston, Seattle, and Tulsa. It is the perfect catalyst to get one thinking about the larger, more important issues in any organization.

Pretty much everything you need to know about Sinek’s book you can get from the title. Essentially, he makes the case that every successful business, organization, or movement knows at its core its reason for existence – the WHY. The HOW and the WHAT will follow naturally from the WHY. If the leaders of the business, organization, or movement can articulate and communicate the WHY to both the members (e.g. employees) and the stakeholders (e.g. customers) then everyone is motivated for the right reasons, and the organization will flourish. He cites Apple, Southwest Airlines, and the civil rights movement under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as examples of this principle in action. Best line in the book: Dr. King gave the “I Have A Dream” speech, not the “I Have a Plan” speech. If you sit back and think about it, this is not rocket science, but it is an idea that is critically important, and easily forgotten in the day-to-day operations of HOW and WHAT (and yes, Sinek puts those three words in ALL CAPS throughout the book.)

So why does Michigan Tech exist? Good question. There is actually one very good answer, spelled out in the opening section our founding legislation. Here, according to the State of Michigan in 1885, and amended in 1963 and 1964 to change the name, is our raison d’etre:

The institution established in the Upper Peninsula known as the Michigan College of Mining and Technology, referred to in the constitution of 1963 as the Michigan College of Science and Technology, is continued after January 1, 1964, under the name of Michigan Technological University, and shall be maintained for the purpose and under the regulations contained in this act. The institution shall provide the inhabitants of this state with the means of acquiring a thorough knowledge of the mineral industry in its various phases, and of the application of science to industry, as exemplified by the various engineering courses offered at technological institutions, and shall seek to promote the welfare of the industries of the state, insofar as the funds provided shall permit and the Board of Control shall deem advisable.

This is pretty unambiguous: we exist to provide a means for the inhabitants of Michigan to acquire knowledge in the application of science to industry (which I would argue means STEM) and to promote the welfare of industries in the state. [OK, there is that part about the mineral industry which seems a bit dated, although I am certain my friends over in Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences love it.] In essence, the founding legislation speaks to education and research, and specifically STEM education and industrial research. Close inspection reveals that this paragraph does not say anything about educating students from other states or other countries, nor does it say anything about doing government-sponsored basic research, nor does it say we will promote the welfare of industries in California.

Don’t worry, I am not going to be a strict constructionist here. I realize that our founding legislation is a living document, much like the U.S. Constitution, and that the very changes in society, technology, and industry that we have helped to bring about force us to reconsider exactly what it means to be useful to the State of Michigan. I am happy that we have students from all over the U.S. and from abroad, I am happy that our research portfolio includes a lot of basic science as well as applied science, and I am happy that our graduates have good job opportunities all across the country. One can easily argue that all this activity is good for Michigan citizens and Michigan industry, and besides, the world is much smaller now than it was in 1885 and we need to have a global perspective. Thankfully, we have a Board of Trustees who acts as our “supreme court” and which can interpret our founding legislation in a way that keeps us relevant for the 21st century.

That being said, I am not shy about asserting that Michigan Tech is and always has been a technological university at its core. We need to embrace that identity and not try to run away from it; it’s who we are, it’s what we do, it’s in our DNA. I am also not shy about saying that Michigan Tech has a responsibility to the State of Michigan in some way or another, whether that means providing a pipeline of well-prepared talent in STEM fields or supporting industry through basic and applied research. Lately I have been throwing in the phrase “and the larger Great Lakes region” when I speak or write about our role in the state, because I think we all interconnected now, and what is good for Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio is by and large good for Michigan too – and vice versa.

An issue related to our purpose in life occasionally comes up in conversation around the department, when someone throws out the question “Who are our customers?” It took me a while but I now have my stock answer to this question, which is: we are not a business, therefore we do not have customers. We are an institution that serves the public good, and we have many stakeholders. These include our students, our students’ families, our alumni, our research sponsors, our industrial recruiters, our other industries in the state, and the State of Michigan as a whole. There is a whole ecosystem surrounding discovery, innovation, education, and workforce training, and when we are operating at our best these parts are all working together for the betterment of society as a whole. Now it is tempting to say that “students are our customers, they are the ones paying the bills” and it is very easy to see why many students and their parents would adopt this stand. However, this is an unfortunate consequence of the drop in state funding and the subsequent increase in tuition which shifts the financial burden to the students and their families, and I certainly agree that it is substantial. Please don’t misunderstand: we take our responsibilities to our students very seriously. I do want to point out that there was a time when students paid a nominal fraction of the cost of their education, and the rest was borne by the state because the higher education of students who would contribute to economic and social development of the state was a benefit to all citizens, not just those attending college. [This is going off on a tangent, but I recommend reading the editorial in the New York Times Magazine on February 21, 2017, lamenting the loss of the “public” in public schools.]

If we fast-forward from 1885 we can find a more modern version of Michigan Tech’s WHY in our strategic plan, easily found on the website There you will find our Mission, our Vision, and our Goals, as developed over several years recently by the administration and the Board of Trustees with lots of input from the entire university community. At first I thought it would be straightforward to map WHY, HOW and WHAT onto Mission, Vision, and Goals, but that didn’t quite work out. In fact, in doing some background reading on mission and vision statements, I found conflicting guidance on what belongs in a mission statement, with different authors claiming it should be WHY, HOW, or WHAT. The one consistent guidance I found was that the mission speaks to the present, while the vision speaks to the future. So, with that little admission of my own state of confusion, I am going to take the university’s Vision as the definitive statement of why we believe we exist now. I am going to make one little modification, and change the future tense to the present tense:

Michigan Tech leads as a global technological university that inspires students, advances knowledge, and innovates to create a sustainable, just, and prosperous world.

I’m good with this. Obviously this statement has much broader reach than the opening paragraph of our founding legislation, but there is nothing in this statement that outright contradicts that original document. If we are successful in all our global aspirations that in all likelihood we will fulfill all our local responsibilities.

There is another little phrase that has been used by the university for many years. It is not our mission or our vision, nor is it an official motto or slogan of any kind; some people simply call it our “tagline.” It pops up on a lot of Michigan Tech promotional material, and it goes like this:

We prepare students to create the future.

This is very catchy and I acknowledge the author, unknown to me, for succinctly capturing a nice idea. Unfortunately, I am not good with this as a statement of the Michigan Tech WHY because it does short shrift to our aspirations in research and our responsibility to support industry. I know, everybody’s a critic.

My whole point in this exploration of the Michigan Tech WHY, beyond just pontificating on someone else’s wordsmithing, is that I think we all need to keep the big picture in front of us at this critical juncture in the life of the university. It is my hope that our new leadership will not only have a compelling vision for the future of the university, but will also work to communicate that vision regularly to the university community. We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and we look to our leaders to give us a better reason than a paycheck. I can get behind inspiring students and advancing knowledge, but so can a lot of universities (all of them, actually) so I want us to do it in a way that is a reflection of Michigan Tech’s special place in the world. We have a lot to be proud of, and a lot to offer. As long as the university community and the rest of the world know WHY that is true then we will be in good shape.

Coming up: I will get further into the weeds of WHY we do certain things in the ECE Department. In the meantime, enjoy the last few days of May.

– Dan

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

Air Force Funding for Jeremy Bos

Jeremy Bos
Jeremy Bos

Jeremy Bos (ECE/RICC) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $106,032 research and development grant from the US Department of Defense, Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The project is titled “Imaging Theory and Mitigation in Extreme Turbulence-Induced Anisoplanatism.”

This is the first year of a three-year project potentially totaling $331,550.

By Sponsored Programs.

Fridays with Fuhrmann: Under the Radar

FWF_image_20170512Greetings one and all from beautiful Seattle, Washington, where I have been attending the 2017 IEEE Radar Conference. It has been a nice change of pace to immerse myself in a technical environment, catch up with some old friends, and think about some problems that I have not visited in some time.

Radar is an interesting field. In many ways it is the perfect field for EEs, since it covers just about everything that is electrical engineering and includes almost nothing that is not. To understand radar systems one needs to understand electromagnetic wave propagation, electronics, antennas, amplifiers, signal processing (a lot of signal processing) and computing hardware. As in almost all technical fields the computing piece is becoming more and more important, since the advances in speed and reduced size and power of the electronics, combined with advances in computational intelligence, are making possible applications that no one would have thought possible 10 or 20 years ago. Radar is also a pretty weird field to study from the academic side, since most of the applications to date have been in the military and defense world, and not being in that environment all the time one is never sure if the theoretical work is fully relevant to real applications. That hasn’t stopped me from moving ahead (in fits and starts, admittedly) and it hasn’t stopped some of my colleagues outside of academia from showing interest in my work over the years.

Conferences like this are a nice mix of the technical and the personal, and often drive home the point that it is the people that get the work done. On the personal side there were two very nice moments for me. One was seeing Dr. Marco La Manna, my first PhD student at Michigan Tech, present our joint paper on hybrid-MIMO radar signal processing. Marco is just starting out his career as a post-doc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He did a fine job with the presentation and fielded questions well; I was happy and proud of him. On the other end of the career arc, one my first PhD students back at Washington University, Dr. Frank Robey, was recognized for being elevated to IEEE Fellow status. Frank is my first PhD student to reach this milestone, so again I was happy and proud. I made IEEE Fellow myself back in 2010, and ironically our joint work that was part of Frank’s PhD dissertation played a big role in that. Our paper “An Adaptive Matched Filter Detector” published in the IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems in 1990 with two other authors, is my most-cited paper, and Frank is the first author. Frank has gone on to a very distinguished career as a radar engineer for MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and he knows a lot more about how radar really works than I ever will. I was Frank’s advisor for four years, but he has been my advisor ever since. It is great to see him get the recognition he deserves.

Coming to a conference like this is like putting on an old shoe. There is a familiar cast of characters: the curmudgeon who stands up and says that your work was done 50 years ago, the young engineer who is nervous and shy, the older seasoned engineer with too many slides, and the guy who gets unnecessarily positioned about the superiority of one technology over another. There are an awful lot of talks that appear to be a new mix of a lot of old concepts and buzzwords, and one is never quite sure if the speaker is really moving the state of the art forward or just reinventing the wheel. What is clear is that technological progress never moves in a straight line. There is a lot of going around and around in circles as the level of understanding in a technical community reaches critical mass to actually make something new happen.

I couldn’t help but notice one change in the conference dynamic which is a result of the ubiquitous smart phone. There is a lot of good conversation in the hallways as there always is, but there were also a lot of people off to the side checking their texts and e-mail. A lot of people were doing the same during the talks, usually at the back of the room when the talk got a little boring. I caught myself doing it too! Staying fully present in this environment is actually quite difficult, for me anyway, and cell phone addiction does not help.

A conference like this can be considered a success if one comes away with at least one new idea or the recognition that the field has changed in some significant way. The most striking thing for me was a presentation on the Google Soli project, which is putting micro-radars into small personal devices like smart watches, to track finger and hand gestures as part of a user interface. Just do a search on “Google Soli” and you can see all about it; it is very cool. This project demonstrated for me the potential that exists in the commercial world for moving technology forward. Even though I did not see much in this conference about automotive radar, it did make me think that there could be a lot of advances coming to support autonomous vehicles also. Given our level of interest in robotics, control, and automation in the Michigan Tech ECE Department it would probably be worth my while to find out as much as I can. The presentation itself on the Google Soli project totally raised the bar in terms of speaker polish and audio-visual aids. It put the rest of us PowerPoint hackers on notice that we need to raise our game if we are going to stay competitive.

Back in the office next week, and with luck it will be spring in the Keweenaw. Hope springs eternal, as it does at the beginning of every summer, that some of the inspirations from this week will turn into concrete results before the start of a new school year.

– Dan

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

Shiyan Hu Delivers Keynote in China

Shiyan Hu
Shiyan Hu

Shiyan Hu (ECE) delivered a keynote talk at the 2017 IEEE International Conference on Energy Internet in Beijing, China. Hu gave the talk “Smart Energy Cyber-Physical Systems: Big Data Analytics and Security” that builds off his work in smart energy cyber-physical systems.

He is an ACM Distinguished Speaker, an IEEE Systems Council Distinguished Lecturer, an IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Visitor, an invited participant for US National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Symposium and a recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award.

Hu is a Fellow of IET and the editor-in-chief of IET Cyber-Physical Systems: Theory & Applications. He is also the chair for IEEE Technical Committee on Cyber-Physical Systems. More information about his keynote speech can be found online.

Kyle Ludwig on Pitching Looma

Kyle Ludwig CMU NVC
Kyle Ludwig at CMU NVC

Kyle Ludwig, a fourth-year computer engineering student from Traverse City, Michigan, comments on the recent Central Michigan University New Venture Competition business pitch for funding.

We competed in CMU NVC business pitch competition for funding. If you’ve ever seen Silicon Valley on HBO, it’s like a the student version of TechCrunch Disrupt. Outside the satire, there are opportunities for us to meet investors, other entrepreneurs, and compete for $80,000 in funding. For almost two years, I’ve been beginning my startup Looma to automate meal planning to eat consistently healthy without the worry of time, depriving, or unsuccessful outcome. We’ve asked for a lot of direction from people, books, blogs and more to be systematic in our company intent and product development. Michigan Tech has helped not only with advice and resources through the Pavlis Honors College, but with continuous support we’ve gained from students and faculty as we get ready to launch our app.

According to Ludwig, Michigan Tech has helped not only with advice and resources through the Pavlis Honors College, but with continuous support the venture group gained from students and faculty as they get ready to launch their app. There are challenges to overcome in entrepreneurship:

When you want someone’s advice, don’t ask for it. Ask for the tools on how to learn what they know. Books are more valuable than quick responses.

The event took place on March 24, 2017.

Fridays with Fuhrmann: That’s a Wrap

Duane Bucheger, ECE Professor of Practice
Duane Bucheger, ECE Professor of Practice

Feliz Cinco de Mayo from sunny Houston, Texas, where I am attending the spring off-site meeting of the College of Engineering External Advisory Board. Many thanks to board member Paul Dean for hosting us here at his facility at Dow Chemical. After our business meeting wraps up today, we will take part in an alumni social event for all Houston-area Huskies at a nearby restaurant.

Today is the last day of the “academic year pay period” which extends from two weeks before classes start in the fall, to one week after they end in the spring. Officially that means that, at Michigan Tech, summer starts next week. (There is a little cruel irony here in that we don’t even have leaves on our trees yet, but that will come shortly.) This is a good time for us to take stock of how we did over the past year, and taking a look at next year. We had our last faculty meeting of the year on Tuesday, and I made just such a report, which I will summarize here.

Congratulations to Assistant Professors Lucia Gauchia, Zhaohui Wang, and Jeremy Bos, on being reappointed to new two-year terms. Profs. Gauchia and Wang are entering their third term (years 5-6) and Prof. Bos is entering his second (years 3-4).

The past academic year, including Summer 2016, Fall 2016, and Spring 2017, we graduated 10 PhD students, 121 MS students, and 133 BS students. These numbers are up for us in all categories, especially for the graduate students. We are proud of all our graduating students, and wish them the best as they begin their careers. For next year we have 190 deposits for new undergraduate students, so we could be looking at yet another increase in undergraduate enrollment, even after our 8% growth this year. The data I have make it very difficult to predict the graduate enrollment for next year, so I am not even going to venture a guess on that one.

In talking about the teaching program, I always like to point out faculty members who do a great job in the classroom. One of the calculations I do involves student course evaluations and class sizes simultaneously. Without going into the details of the arithmetic, some faculty members who come out very well by that metric are Glen Archer, Mike Roggemann, Ashok Ambardar, and Lucia Gauchia. Looking at student course evaluations alone, for the smaller to medium-size classes, I see outstanding performance from Ashok Ambardar, Aurenice Oliveira, and Kit Cischke for undergraduate classes, and Sumit Paudyal, Mike Roggemann, and Lucia Gauchia for graduate classes.

We graduated 10 PhD students this year, which exactly meets our target of 10 per year, or 30 over the 3-year strategic planning period. The total over the past three years was 19, so the latter target was not met. However, looking ahead I count 3 PhD students who have already defended their dissertation but did not graduate for one reason or another, and 3 more that are defending in May. So, our PhD students are moving through the pipeline, and that is a good sign.

My projection for the research expenditures in ECE Department for this fiscal year, ending on June 30, is $2.0M. If that is correct, it will be down from $2.45M last year, but about average for us over the past few years. This is on the low side relative to our peers, for our size faculty and PhD program, and something that we continue to work on. One can reasonably ask why we even report such statistics, since the funding is not nearly as important as the quality and the impact of the work. The answer is (or my answer is) that dollars are fungible; everyone knows what a dollar is and what it is worth. The research expenditures in a department are a very simple “proxy metric” for the size of the research program, and all deans and department chairs report them (at least when we are talking to each other – read into that what you want.) The quality and impact of the work, as important as it is, is much harder to quantify. One argument is, if you can convince someone to pay for it then the work must be important. Ultimately the reputation of the department and the individual faculty members is based on intellectual and scholarly contributions, but such reputations take a long time to develop. So, for reporting short-term results research expenditures continue to be the easy way out.

A few other acknowledgements are in order:

Kudos to Assistant Professors Lucia Gauchia and Zhaohui Wang on their NSF CAREER awards, and to Assistant Professor Jeremy Bos for both his AFOSR Young Investigator Award and for leading the effort to get us into the GM/SAE AutoDrive Challenge. I wrote extensively about all of this in an earlier post but it bears repeating.

Prof. Bruce Mork simultaneously had the most research expenditures this fiscal year and taught very large graduate courses in power systems. Bruce’s graduate course in power system protection in the semester that just ended had nearly 100 students, which could be classified as a success disaster were it not for the fact that he manages it very well (and we threw a lot of graduate TAs at the laboratory sections). Many thanks to Bruce to setting an example in research funding and attracting MS students to the department.

Associate Chair Glen Archer was recognized in the Dean’s Teaching Showcase for his outstanding work in EE3010, our “service” course in electronic circuits and instrumentation for non-majors, his guidance as the faculty advisor for both the Blue Marble Security Enterprise and Robotics System Enterprise, and his service as the supervisor for all the lab TAs in the department. Glen is indispensable to me personally in all matters of departmental administration, and is totally committed to the success of the ECE Department. It is a pleasure to work with him.

Prof. Shiyan Hu is leading the way in departmental visibility in the area of professional service. He led the establishment of a new IEEE Technical Committee on Cyber-Physical Systems; he is the co-Editor-in-Chief of the new IET Journal on Cyber-Physical Systems; he has established two new IEEE workshops; he is an Associate Editor for three IEEE Transactions. As we grow the department activity in the areas of robotics, control, and automation, this recognition on the national and international scene in cyber-physical systems is extremely valuable, and I thank Shiyan for all his hard work.

Most years I like to recognize an individual departmental staff member for outstanding service. This year I just want to make the point that our entire staff, those with office, technical, and advising responsibilities, do a fantastic job and work well together as a team to move the department forward. Many thanks to Lisa Hitch, Michele Kamppinen, Joan Becker, Judy Donahue, Trever Hassell, Chito Kendrick, Chuck Sannes, and Mark Sloat for everything you do.

Finally, this week we are saying goodbye to Professor of Practice Duane Bucheger, who is leaving after six years of being in charge of the Senior Design program. Duane was a tireless advocate for bringing an industry perspective to our undergraduate educational programs, and in the process he sparked quite a few lively discussions in the department. We didn’t always agree on everything but I almost always learned something from our conversations and certainly I appreciated his perspective. Like all of us, Duane wants to make Michigan Tech a better place, and he may well have the opportunity to keep doing that in a different capacity; the plans are uncertain. Duane, I thank you for all your hard work, and wish you all the best.

Have a great summer everyone!

– Dan

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

FWF: A Special 50th Anniversary

ECE Academy inductee Patricia (Pat) Anthony, BSEE 1967
ECE Academy inductee Patricia (Pat) Anthony, BSEE 1967

Welcome to another Monday morning edition of FWF. As was the case earlier this month, all the action last week took place at the end of the week, so I needed the weekend to catch my breath. But what a week it was: final exams, commencement, and a very special recognition ceremony in the ECE Department.

The spring commencement ceremony was held Saturday morning in the hockey arena at the Student Development Complex. This is always a wonderful celebration and I love being a part of it. This spring the department sent off 7 PhD students, 76 MS students, and 92 undergraduates, and most of them were there to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. These are some pretty big numbers for us, especially the graduate students, and that contributed a little bit to the ceremony being some 3 hours long this year. Here’s a little confession: on Friday a number of guests in the department asked me how many students we were graduating, a number that someone in my position would know, one would think. This happens every year and I am always caught short. I usually don’t know until I open my commencement program and start counting!

One of those students was Marco La Manna, my first PhD graduate at Michigan Tech. Marco did his PhD dissertation in radar signal processing, and is now a post-doc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was a very nice moment to be a part of Marco’s hooding ceremony, and I know the same is true for all of our other PhD graduates and their advisors. Growing the PhD program is a key component of our departmental strategic plan, so being able to make an individual contribution to that effort was very gratifying. The personal and professional relationship that I have developed with Marco and his wife Samantha over the past few years is equally satisfying.

The main event for me this year was not commencement itself but rather a special event that took place the day before and rolled right into commencement. This year we recognized the first woman graduate of the ECE Department, Patricia Anthony, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her graduation in 1967. Pat was inducted into the ECE Academy on Friday afternoon, in a well-attended ceremony in the social area on the 5th floor of the EERC.

Pat came to Michigan Tech in 1963 following graduation from high school in Grandville, Michigan. She entered with interests in math and science, as one might imagine, and while here she was VP of the Lambda Beta sorority, a DJ at the Wadsworth Hall radio station, and was a member of the U.S. Army ROTC auxiliary, the Silver Stars. She graduated from Michigan Tech in 1967 with the degree Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, the first woman to do so at Tech. Immediately after graduation Pat took a position with IBM, where she spent most of her career. Her first assignment was in Kingston, NY, as a diagnostic engineer for large mainframe computers. She later transferred to Detroit as a systems engineer working in data communications. She become well-known within IBM as an expert in the area, and later took on responsibility for teaching data communications management to IBM customers. Her later assignments were in Dallas, Tampa, and Midland. Throughout her professional career Pat found time for community service activities, including Junior Achievement, United Way, and the Girl Scouts.

Again, one would think that someone in my position would have been aware of Pat’s story for a long time, but in fact I did not know about it until I received an e-mail this past January from her brother, Col. Stephen Anthony (USAF retired), nominating her as a distinguished graduate. At first I did not believe that the first woman graduate of the department would have been as late as 1967, but I checked with Brenda Rudiger, head of Michigan Tech Alumni Relations, and indeed it was true. Brenda also pointed out that this was Pat’s 50th anniversary year. That set everything in motion which eventually led to this weekend’s events. Not only was Pat honored in the ECE Department, she was recognized briefly by the provost during the Board of Trustees meeting on Friday morning, and she attended commencement in the presidential skybox and got a shout-out from President Mroz in his opening remarks.

Pat was inducted into the ECE Academy on Friday afternoon, in a ceremony that was unusual for us for recognizing a single individual. We had a number of speakers lined up, all of whom were insightful, inspirational, and brief: Jackie Huntoon, Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs; Wayne Pennington, Dean of the College of Engineering; Martha Sloan, Professor Emerita in ECE and the first woman president of the IEEE; Linda Ott, Professor and former Chair of the Department of Computer Science; Glen Archer, Associate Chair of the ECE Department; and Rachel Kolb, Treasurer of the Michigan Tech student branch of the Society of Woman Engineers. In one way or another, everyone spoke to the value of pioneers like Pat in paving the way for other women in STEM fields. Pat herself got the last word, and recounted her experiences at Tech, her experiences in industry, and in an emotional closing she touched on the importance of service activities like Junior Achievement that encourage young people of all stripes to pursue their dreams.

One thing that really struck me about Pat’s remarks was how extraordinarily generous she was to the male professors in the EE Department in the 1960s who simply did not know what to make of a women engineering student. It would be easy to dismiss these men as dinosaurs, but Pat chose a different path. She realized that these were men who were raised in an earlier generation by both their fathers and their mothers to treat women in a certain way, and a woman in the engineering classroom was disruptive to their worldview. Pat was able to persevere in spite of their resistance, and in the end her talent and skill won the day. One could probably make the argument that being able to see the world through the eyes of another is a highly valuable interpersonal skill, and one that Pat used to her advantage as she moved up through IBM. (Note: I realize full well that one should only take this argument so far.)

An event like this, recognizing the first woman graduate of the EE Department, gives us the opportunity to reflect on where we have come in the past 50 years with regard to women enrollment in STEM fields. To this day we still struggle in the ECE Department, with undergraduate female enrollment hovering around 10%. I believe in my heart that we can and should do a better job of attracting more young women into ECE. At the same time, however, I have a deep admiration and respect for the pioneers like Pat who have struggled against the odds and have come out ahead. I feel the same way about the extraordinary women that I have met in the Presidential Council of Alumnae, the advisory group to President Mroz, all of whom have become leaders in industry and civic affairs. Female students at Michigan Tech are represented in student leadership positions campus-wide in numbers much higher than their proportion of the undergraduate population, and that has been true in the ECE Department as well. There is a spirit of Sisu in the Husky women students and alumnae that sets them apart, on campus and in their careers, and being here in small numbers probably has a lot to do with that. I am not suggesting for a second that we should slow down our efforts to bring more women into ECE, nor should we ever tolerate ANY attitude that would make the ECE Department less than fully welcoming, inclusive, and comfortable for all students (that goes for faculty and staff too.) I guess I am just being somewhat wistful and counting myself as lucky for having had the opportunity to get to know the amazing women like Pat who have been, and continue to be, on the leading edge of the movement to change the face of electrical and computer engineering.

– Dan

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

Jacob Staniszewski on Job-Stealing Robots

Jacob Staniszewski
Jacob Staniszewski

This story is the second in a four part look at ‘Robots and Michigan.’ Check back next week, when we’ll bring you part three.

Jacob Staniszewski is always looking for trouble.

I strongly believe that within the next 20 to 30 years, everything that can be automated, will be,

Staniszewski says.

Armed with an electrical engineering degree from Michigan Tech, he’s signed on to his first post-college gig with FANUC (FAN-uck) – the juggernaut Japanese company behind most of the industrial robots on American assembly lines today. Now it’s Staniszewski’s duty to stir up trouble with the factory-working robots of the future.

A born-and-raised Michigander, Staniszewski’s one of a growing number in the Great Lakes State looking towards a future in industrial robotics.

Read more at Forbes, by Hilary Brueck.

Senator Stabenow Learns About Robotics and Autonomous Vehicles


HOUGHTON — U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) heard from Michigan Tech faculty and students about projects related to the Great Lakes during her April 1, 2017, visit to the university’s Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) in Houghton.

Cameron Burke, Michigan Tech student in computer engineering, said he was excited to be working with the robotics program and autonomous vehicles and would probably focus on these in graduate school in the future. For example, he noted some of the experiments include sending the vehicles out into the snow or rain to determine how they could be safer than a regular car.

Read more and watch the videos at Keweenaw Now, by Michele Bourdieu.

FWF: Mobility @ Tech

FWF-image-2-20170424 The first part of this FWF double feature almost didn’t get written because there were so many events and activities in the ECE Department that I had to attend to. This second part almost didn’t get written because I was lying in bed binge-watching Season 3 of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”. This highly entertaining and astonishingly vulgar parody of start-ups in “the valley” is LOL funny, especially for electrical and computer types like us. I am not certain that all the counter-culture stereotypes and situations bear full resemblance to reality, but I do have to imagine that there is a seamy underbelly to the tech innovation culture that is usually held up as the paragon of realized human potential, even in this very blog. Season 4 starts this week!

But, back to matters closer to home. The highlight of this past week at Michigan Tech, from my point of view, was a half-day event held on Thursday in the lobby of the Rozsa Center called the “Mobility Summit.” This was an event that came together after discussions earlier in the semester involving Adrienne Minerick, Associate Dean for Research and Innovation in the College of Engineering, Pasi Lautala, faculty member in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute, and yours truly. I have to admit, I wasn’t very much help once the ball got rolling, but Adrienne and Pasi did a fabulous job and I would consider it a big success.

“Mobility” is the new buzzword that describes everything having to do with the movement of people and things. It includes vehicles of all different kinds, transportation infrastructure, transportation automation including autonomous vehicles and vehicular communication networks, human factors and human-machine interfaces, and all the changes in society resulting from disruption in ride-sharing, alternative vehicle ownership models, and public transportation. This entire field is very important to the state of Michigan, due to our history in the automobile industry, our existing strong talent base in engineering, and our desire to leverage our advantage to remain a world leader in all things having to do with transportation. There are many people downstate in government and industry who see mobility as the key to economic development, and re-development, in our state and in the region, and I would agree with them.

Because mobility is important to the state of Michigan, it is important to Michigan Tech. Several of us decided that it would be a good idea to start pulling together all the expertise across campus, just to get a better sense of how much we actually have going on. There are two compelling reasons to do this, one internal and one external. The internal reason is that we all need to be aware of what our colleagues in other departments are doing, so that we can look for synergies and perhaps begin to develop a unified vision. The external reason is, if Michigan Tech really does have a strong collective presence in mobility, then we need to brand it and make sure the whole world knows about it.

The good news is that Michigan Tech really does have a lot to offer in mobility, and this became abundantly clear at the Summit on Thursday. The centerpiece of the Summit was a series of short (like 2-minute) presentations by some 18 researchers from 6 different departments, followed by a poster session where people could follow up with focused one-on-one technical conversations. The departments that got the most exposure were Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Civil and Environmental Engineering, but it was surprising to see the level of activity in other corners of campus as well. In this sense the primary objective of the Summit was met. I found that our biggest strengths are in controls and communications, and the expertise in those areas is absolutely not limited to one department.

In addition to us talking to ourselves, we had two distinguished visitors with two stimulating keynote addresses: Paul Rogers, Director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Warren, Michigan, and Kirk Steudle, Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Both spent the bulk of their time talking about the development of autonomous vehicle technology. From Dr. Rogers we learned that the Army has been working on military autonomous vehicles for quite a while, and developing technologies that may have an impact on the development of commercial autonomous vehicles. From Dr. Steudle we learned that Michigan is ahead of the curve, legislatively speaking, in creating the environment for the development of autonomous vehicles, particular with regard to testing on public roads. Both speakers advocated a stronger and more visible role for Michigan Tech in mobility, and offered advice on how we might get there.

The main takeaways for me were 1) yes, Michigan Tech has a lot to offer the state in mobility, and 2) yes, we will need to work together across campus to develop a comprehensive strategy, both for collaboration and for branding. The third takeaway is more specific to the ECE Department, and which is in the eye of the storm when it comes to moving autonomous technology forward. Dr. Rogers said it best, perhaps unintentionally, when he presented a slide showing where the breakthroughs are needed to make autonomous vehicles a reality. The slide included things like artificial intelligence, big data, radar, lidar, image processing, communication networks – in fact, every single thing he showed comes from the worlds of electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science. Powertrain engineering was conspicuously absent from the discussion. Granted, there is a lot of powertrain work to be done if the transition to all-electric vehicles happens at the same time as the transition to autonomous vehicles, but even there, there is plenty of work for electrical engineers. My point here is that while across-campus collaboration can and must happen if Michigan Tech is to be seen as a major player in mobility, the center of gravity for mobility research and development must shift at the same time. I am happy to help make that happen, as best I can.

This coming week is Final Weeks at Michigan Tech, and commencement happens on Saturday. It is an exciting, wonderful time (commencement, not finals) and you will read all about it here. Stay tuned.

– Dan

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