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