Fridays with Fuhrmann: That’s A Wrap

We have come to the end of another academic year at Michigan Tech. On Saturday, May 5, our spring commencement ceremony was held at the John MacInnes Ice Arena at the Student Development Complex (SDC), and the place was packed to the rafters with all the graduates and their families and well-wishers. I have been through the Michigan Tech spring commencement now nine times, and I enjoy it as much now as I did the first time. I get to sit on the platform with all the university leadership, the Board of Trustees, and my fellow department chairs, and when it is my turn I get to shake the hands of all our graduates from the ECE Department. When one has been doing this for a while, it starts to become apparent how many lives we touch at a place like Michigan Tech. This certainly must have been on the mind of our president Glenn Mroz, who after 14 years on the job is moving back to the faculty and thus this was his last commencement as master of ceremonies. President Mroz is an outstanding leader who always wears his heart on his sleeve, and we love him for it.

This year the numbers of degrees granted to students in the ECE Department, counting August 2017, December 2017, and May 2018 graduation dates, were: BSEE 83, BSCpE 41, MSEE 82, MSCpE 13, PhD EE 7, PhD CpE 2. That’s a total of 124 undergraduates and 104 graduate students. It is interesting to note that the number of graduate degrees is in the same ballpark as the number of undergraduate degrees, a major shift in the departmental culture over the past couple of decades. One of the things that caught my attention in the commencement program was that, for the spring ceremony, we actually had more MSEE graduates (63) than BSEE graduates (57). I have to imagine that is a first for us, and given current enrollment trends we may not see that again for a long time. Of course, because of the difference in the number of student credit hours required for BS vs. MS degrees, our undergraduate enrollment is still much larger than our graduate enrollment. The number of undergraduate degrees is typically around 20% of our undergraduate enrollment, whereas the number of graduate degrees is closer to 50% of our graduate enrollment.

Commencement not only marks the end of the academic year, but also the beginning of summer. The campus empties out and suddenly everything is quiet, for a while at least. The weather has been sunny and beautiful this May, in stark contrast to all the snow we got in April. Lawns have turned green overnight, it seems, and within a week all the trees will be green too. It’s like we go straight from winter to summer.

Summer didn’t really start for me until this past Monday, when I finally wrapped up the report from the Computer and Information Sciences Working Group and turned it over to Provost Jackie Huntoon. We had a number of recommendations, which is what we were asked for, and in broad terms I can report that the Working Group believes Michigan Tech needs to make some bold moves to enhance its visibility and impact in computing. Beyond that I do not want to go into all the details publicly, as the new university leadership should first have the opportunity to go over the report, give us some feedback, and start the process of deciding where the university should go next. I’ll have a few more opinions to share on computing and engineering in the next few weeks, but for now, I am just happy to have that weight lifted off my shoulders.

One of the things we do in the ECE Department during these lulls is take a moment to express our thanks to our highly capable and dedicated staff. Thursday May 17 was an unofficial “staff appreciation day” when several faculty members and I took the staff out to lunch and we enjoyed some time together. The way this comes about every year is that, on the last Wednesday in April, when we are all running around like headless chickens with end-of-year activities, I suddenly remember that it is Administrative Professionals Day. When that happens I ask if we can just put the celebration off until May, and of course everyone says yes. We are truly blessed in the ECE Department to have clerical, advising, and technical staff that do an amazing job individually and also work together really well as a team. It certainly makes my job a lot easier and I am grateful for their service to Michigan Tech and the ECE Department.

So now, on to the summer. The big thing on my to-do list is to prepare for the roll-out of our new online MSEE program focused on signal processing and communications, due to start in September (see FWF 2/23/2018). While Prof. Tim Schulz is working on a new course in Mathematical and Computational Methods in Engineering, I have volunteered to prepare and teach an online version of our course in Digital Signal Processing. Tim and I are both finding that building an online course to contemporary standards is a lot of work, as it requires us to think about delivering technical content in a whole new way. I am hoping one can teach an old dog new tricks, but I am optimistic, even confident. This is a great summer project and I am looking forward to it – along with everything else that one can find to do in the Copper Country.

Have a great summer everyone!

– Dan

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