Welcome to a special double feature edition of FWF. I am playing catch-up this weekend, in my attempts to write one column per week, not always successful. This is the busiest time of the year at Michigan Tech, so there is plenty to write about, but sometimes doing stuff gets in the way of writing about it.
The week of April 10-14 is “Week 13” in the spring academic calendar. In the ECE Department, this is when the students wrap up their Senior Design and Enterprise projects and make their final presentations, on Thursday. Simultaneously, the ECE External Advisory Committee (EAC) is in town, from Wednesday afternoon to Friday noon. The timing of the EAC visit is no coincidence, as their primary mission in the spring meeting is help us judge the student presentations. The entire ECE faculty gets into the act as well, sitting in on the presentations and offering their feedback. For all of Thursday morning, from 8am to 1pm, we listened to student teams of 4-6 describe their various projects. Collectively we watched 26 different presentations spread out over 5 time slots and 6 venues.
My overall impression this year is that the presentations were quite good; there seems to be a gradual improvement in the quality of the oral communication skills and the level of comfort our students have with public speaking. If I were to have a concern, it would be that I wonder if we are doing enough to challenge our students with the electrical and computer engineering technical content. All of our Senior Design projects are industry-sponsored, and many of the Enterprise projects are as well. We are of course very proud of our relationships with our industry partners, and seek to do everything we can to ensure that they get the value they seek from supporting our educational programs. The trick is making sure that those needs include tough, interesting, electrical/computer engineering problems that require a concerted effort for several months on the part of our students to find a viable solution. The EAC echoed these concerns in our debriefing session on Friday, and it is something we will be taking a close look at next year.
As is to be expected there is a range of quality in the student projects, and the best ones are absolutely outstanding. Each year the EAC awards the Larry Kennedy Industry Innovation Award to the project they deem to be the very best. The award is named in honor of our recent EAC chair who was taken from us suddenly by a heart attack, two years ago, at a far too young age. This year’s award goes to the project titled “Surgical High Speed Drill Rotor Position via CAN bus” sponsored by the Stryker Corporation. Stryker is a medical device and equipment company headquartered in SW Michigan; this is their first Senior Design project in the ECE Department. The ECE faculty advisor is Trever Hassell and the Stryker point of contact is Keith Behnke, whom we also welcome to the EAC this year. The students on the team are Dan Bragg, Elliott Meese, Julio Saint-Felix Rodriguez, Hailey Trossen, and Yuguang Wang. My congratulations to everyone involved in the project – in terms of the scope of the project and the quality of the execution this is exactly what we hope for every year.
The award for best capstone project is just one of several awards given out at our Senior Banquet, which occurred the evening of Thursday, April 13, with student, faculty, and EAC members in attendance.
This year for the first time we recognized the many undergraduate students who serve the ECE Department in various capacities, some paid and some volunteer. These include participating in Fall Open House and Spring Preview days, telephone calling campaigns for student recruiting, departmental tours, and our Undergraduate Advisory Board. Some 18 students were presented with certificates. This community service by our students is highly valued and greatly appreciated by the department, and the recognition is long overdue. I plan to continue doing this at the Senior Banquet from here on out.
The Departmental Scholar Award is our departmental nominee for the Provost’s Award for Scholarship, given to a student who will be senior ranked in the following academic year, and who represents the very best in scholarship and leadership at Michigan Tech. The ECE Departmental Scholar for the 2016-2017 academic year is Sarah Wade, a double major in electrical engineering and computer engineering with an outstanding academic record and long list of extracurricular activities including being on the Nordic ski team. Sarah is a member of the Aerospace Enterprise, hosted in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics and is making significant contributions there as a systems engineering and technical lead. Many of our award-winning students over the years have been associated with the Aerospace Enterprise so they must be doing something right over there. Like all but one of the Departmental Scholars at Michigan Tech, Sarah did not win the Provost’s Award, but the competition was stiff and we were proud to have her represent ECE.
The Woman of Promise Award was created by the Presidential Council of Alumnae, an advisory group to President Mroz. It is intended to recognize those women at Michigan Tech who go “above and beyond” what is expected in terms of being a well-rounded student, with considerations of academic achievement, campus leadership, citizenship, and creativity. This year the ECE Department had such outstanding nominees that we decided to give two Woman of Promise Awards. The first went to Jenna Burns, a high-achieving electrical engineering major with a minor in Spanish, who also is a percussion section leader in the Pep Band, and who has really distinguished herself in service to the ECE Department. Our second Woman of Promise is Elizabeth “Libbey” Held, a double major in electrical and computer engineering, a minor in Spanish (is there a theme here?), and a near-perfect GPA. Libby was cited by several faculty members as someone who asks the most insightful questions in class and during office hours. My congratulations to both Jenna and Libbey. Both have a year to go, so I say keep up the good work!
Our top student achievement award is the Carl S. Schjonberg Award for the Outstanding Undergraduate Student in the ECE Department. This year’s award choice was in my opinion a slam-dunk and I made that opinion known during our faculty deliberations, which I usually stay out of. Casey Strom is a truly remarkable individual. He is what we would call a “non-traditional” student, meaning that he comes to our program with a fair amount of life experience already under his belt. He lives and works on a family farm in Calumet, has a large family already, and had his own surveying business at the time of his coming into the department. In spite of all these demands on his time, he completes all of his coursework in the ECE Department with near-perfect attendance, all homeworks completed on time, and many exams close to 100%. This guy is motivated like you wouldn’t believe, and on top of that he has the most cheerful can-do demeanor of any student I have ever met. Casey, you represent the best of everything we try to do in the ECE Department and I couldn’t be prouder to call you a Michigan Tech graduate.
The final award of the evening at the Senior Banquet is presented by the students in Eta Kappa Nu to their selection for the Professor of the Year. This year’s award goes to Duane Bucheger. Duane is our Professor of Practice who runs the Senior Design program and teaches courses in design fundamentals, electric circuits, and electronics. He has been in this position for six years, and during that time he has done an outstanding job of building up our space and equipment devoted to Senior Design on the 7th floor of the EERC. As anyone in the ECE Department can tell you, Duane is a strong and vocal advocate for making sure students are aware of what will be expected of them in industry, and for preparing them to enter that world. I am delighted to see the Eta Kappa Nu students recognize Prof. Bucheger for his efforts on their behalf; I think it is a fitting tribute for all his hard work. For a variety of reasons and by mutual agreement, Duane will be stepping down from this position at the end of the academic year. We wish him all the best and thank him for his many contributions to the ECE Department.
All of that was almost two weeks ago! One more post and I will be caught up – and maybe the snow will be gone.
Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University