Author: Lisa Hitch

Fridays with Fuhrmann: Michigan Tech Responds

FWF_image_20170203I am setting aside the draft of the column I was working on for this week, so that I can write a few words in response to the president’s executive order temporarily banning people from seven countries from entering the United States. This order has had an immediate and significant impact across all of American higher education, including Michigan Tech. The impact has both a humanitarian dimension, in terms of the damage it is doing to our international students, scholars, and their families, and a practical dimension, in terms of the research, scholarship, and enrollment at institutions of higher learning nationwide.

This past Wednesday the University Senate of Michigan Tech passed a “Sense of the Senate” resolution on this same issue. I am not a member of the Senate and thus cannot vote, but nevertheless I was at the meeting. I agree with the resolution and support it. In fact, it reflects my own thoughts well enough that I will simply use it here, verbatim.

The first sentence of the resolution mentions that the Senate is a non-political body. I also affirmed two weeks ago that I would not use this column as a forum for my own political views. This raises an interesting question – what exactly is political? If I were to advocate for a candidate or a political party in an election, that would be unambiguously political and I am not going to do it. However, if I respond to actions of our government, whose officials have already been elected, which has ramifications for me and my community, then we are in more of a gray area – made more gray by the fact that all of the actors are on one side of the political spectrum. Having pondered this a while, my position is this: commenting on issues of law and policy that affect me, my colleagues, our students, and what we do for a living every day, is not political. It is my right and my duty as a citizen and an academic leader at Michigan Tech. I am commenting on the issues, not the people who created them.

In what is given below, I have removed a couple of short paragraphs I consider more internal to Michigan Tech, messages from the Senate to the university administration. Again, my purpose here is to use the words prepared by Senate members that I find accurately and eloquently represent my own position.

Here then is the (slightly edited) Sense of the Senate resolution, adopted Wednesday, February 1, 2017:

“Resolution in Support of our International Colleagues and Students”
(Voting Units: Full Senate)


The University Senate of Michigan Technological University acknowledges that it is a non-political body. However, when external political events have an impact on its constituents and on the academic life at Michigan Technological University, the Senate has the obligation to address the issues at hand.


The Senate agrees that President Trump’s Executive Order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” causes severe distress among the international employees and students of Michigan Technological University, and has a serious negative impact on the academic life at the university. Examples of these are, but are not limited to, international faculty being unable or scared to travel to international conferences or conduct their international research, international students being unable or scared to participate in studies abroad, faculty and students being unable or scared to plan visits to family members abroad, distressed students in the classroom, and reduced scholarly output of the people impacted. This in turn will have serious adverse effects on Michigan Technological University’s academic productivity.


The Senate recognizes that the international character of this workplace is an important strength of Michigan Technological University. Michigan Technological University is proud to be an inclusive workplace welcoming employees and students from all backgrounds.

The Senate expresses strong support to all employees and students affected by the above mentioned executive order. The Senate recognizes that the group of employees and students affected by the executive order ranges beyond those originating from the seven countries directly targeted by the executive order, and in fact has an impact on everyone in our university community, because when one group is targeted we are all made vulnerable.The Senate will work to guarantee that adverse affects stemming from this order, such as reduced international mobility, are not used against anyone impacted (for example in decisions on tenure and/or promotion).

The Senate supports President Mroz’s statement: “I can’t relieve the distress that many of you might be feeling as a result of this and other events of the recent past. But what I can say is that with your help, we can, and we will, as the Michigan Tech Community, advocate for respect, understanding and compassion in the way we treat each other regardless of our differences. We can and we will defend the Constitutional rights of all in the Michigan Tech community. And we can and we will treasure and protect the free and open exchange that is essential to scholarship, research and creativity. By remaining committed to these core values we can all help to ensure that Michigan Tech remains a community that is open to people from across our nation and around the world.”

– Dan

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

Fridays with Fuhrmann: Inauguration Day Reflections

FWF_image_20170120Well folks, here we are – January 20, 2017, the end of one remarkable era in American politics and beginning of a new one that promises to be even more remarkable.

Readers of this blog can probably figure out which way I lean, but I do not want to use this site as a forum to air my own political views. As a spokesman for the ECE Department at Michigan Tech, where one can find a diversity of opinions on social and political matters, it just wouldn’t be appropriate. I will say this: I believe in our democratic system of government, and our capitalist system for organizing economic activity, and I also believe in the goodwill of most of the American people most of the time. There will be those in the next four years who will seek ways to take advantage of the shifting political landscape for their own personal gain and to the detriment of the American people, but I suppose this can be said of any era. As always, we need to be good citizens – the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and that applies internally as well as externally.

What would be appropriate at this time is for me to consider what I can do, along with the ECE Department and all the rest of Michigan Tech, to be a positive contribution to our nation, our society, and the State of Michigan in the next few years. This election told us a lot about the electorate, including some things that may have caught a lot of people by surprise, and so now is a really good time to re-examine how an institution like Michigan Tech fits in.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that the nation is really divided right now (wouldn’t it be ironic if we can’t even agree on that…). I’m not even sure if “divided” is the right word; maybe “fractured” is more like it. Part of this is due to economic and social forces that I will mention later, but unfortunately it is also due to the way we use technology to communicate with one another. Our use of mass media, social media, and the Internet allows each of us to be very selective about where we get our news and whose opinion we listen to. If we choose to, we can all live in our own bubbles where our own views and preferences are reinforced, and opposing points of view are not heard. This is not altogether a result of our own actions either – any number of our major sources of information, like Google, Facebook, or Amazon, have become very good at tailoring the information we see to our individual preferences. Some of this is very cool – for example, I do appreciate learning from Amazon about a musical artist I might really like – but the flip side of that coin is never having to hear something that conflicts with my worldview. As many readers know, I am an evangelist for electrical and computer engineering and all the benefits we have brought to society in the past century, but putting everyone in their own bubble is not one of those benefits. Another closely related thing I worry about is this: now that the Internet has brought about widespread access to information, which is a good thing, it has also brought about widespread access to misinformation, which is a very bad thing. I am not sure if electrical and computer engineers are the ones to grapple with this problem, but clearly it is happening on the systems we created.

Aside from the technology story, I think a larger issue for us at a place like Michigan Tech to consider is how our U.S. educational system shapes and influences our society. I have been in higher education for virtually my entire career, and so I have to believe that what we are doing is good. I do believe that. The American system of higher education is the mechanism by which thousands of young adults find out who they are and how they will make their way in the world. Our system is the envy of the world – far more students come from abroad to study in U.S. colleges and universities than the other way around. We are a major economic driver: the research coming out of university laboratories leads to new innovations, new businesses, and new economic opportunities for a large swath of the population. I can attest that there is no better place to work than a good college or university.

But…there is another side to this story. Yes, our universities are great, but do they serve everyone in the nation? I am not suggesting that everyone should go to college. I opposed, and continue to oppose, the idea that was floated during the 2016 election campaign that college should be universally free of charge. Not everyone should aspire to go to college, and making it free would greatly distort that decision process. People who for good reasons choose not to go to college should have the same respect as everyone else and have a decent shot at the American Dream. That being said, there are still ways that our higher education system can benefit all of our society. If those that have the intelligence, the talent, and the ambition to attend college can do so, and then use their expanded knowledge and skills to benefit all through creating businesses, designing products and systems, getting engaged in civic affairs, and generally being a part of the community that is the United States, then great. Unfortunately I often see something else happening: smart people come to college, they meet other smart people, they graduate and hang out with more smart people, they get married and have smart kids, and eventually they segregate themselves completely from the communities they came from. When that happens, our system of higher education is not living up to its promise. We hear a lot about segregation along ethnic lines, along class lines, and along wealth lines, but I believe that over the past century there has also been a segregation along the lines of intellectual ability, and I would suggest that this as much anything has led us to the divided America that we see today.

In one short blog entry I have touched on two pretty major topics that are relevant today: how technology influences society, and the rise of the cognitive elite. I hope you will forgive me for bringing them up and then saying so little. Entire books could be written about both topics – plenty of people have done just that – and I will continue exploring these ideas with you in future columns. In the meantime, I will close by saying that I am grateful to live in a country where the peaceful transfer of power that I just witnessed a few moments ago can happen, and that we have the opportunity to pursue our dreams regardless of the party in power. What happens in Washington has an impact on our lives, but it does not determine our lives. Reminding ourselves of that may be one of the best things we can do today, for people anywhere along the political spectrum.

– Dan

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

Fridays with Fuhrmann: Accelerating our MS Program

FWF_image_20170113The ECE Department at Michigan Tech has a long and distinguished history in undergraduate education, having prepared over 8000 engineering students for meaningful careers since its inception in 1928. The times are changing, however, and Michigan Tech is changing as well. Some 40% of the engineering students in the United States now are graduate students, seeking MS and PhD degrees. Our programs have been evolving over the past 2-3 decades to respond to this changing demographic and to respond to the needs of the marketplace. Today our graduate programs are just as important in defining who we are and what we do as our undergraduate programs. This is not to say that we are building graduate programs just to respond to outside forces – in today’s world, a thriving academic engineering department is one in which undergraduate education, graduate education, and faculty-led research all co-exist in synergistic harmony.

The nature of our graduate programs is evolving over time as well. There are actually two distinct flavors of graduate study – that leading to the degree Master of Science (MS) and that leading to the degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). The PhD is the real research degree, where in effect we train our own replacements in the research community. It is a fairly long and arduous process of discovery – and self-discovery – involving close cooperation and collaboration between a student and his or her faculty advisor. The MS degree, on the other hand, provides students an opportunity to get advanced training and skills beyond what they learned as undergraduates, so that they can take on more technically challenging projects and become more valuable engineers for their employers or potential employers. There can be some research associated with the MS degree, and that possibility still exists at Michigan Tech. However, today the MS degree, under what we call the “coursework option” looks more and more like an advanced undergraduate degree, requiring 30 credits of advanced coursework beyond the baccalaureate.

In the ECE Department at Michigan Tech, we have been making steady progress in a concerted effort to grow our PhD program. We have a goal to graduate 10 PhD candidates each year, on average, and in our last 3-year goal cycle 2011-2014 we met that goal exactly. The growth of the PhD program happens in parallel with, but is not synonymous with, the growth of our faculty-led and externally supported research activity. The MS programs we have in electrical engineering (EE) and computer engineering (CpE) did not receive that much attention from the viewpoint of strategic goals, but we knew it was important to have a comprehensive slate of high-quality graduate courses so that we could meet the coursework needs of MS and PhD students alike. Then an interesting thing happened – our MS enrollment took off, totally out of proportion to our expectations! Our enrollment quadrupled over the past 10 years, doubling from 2005 to 2010 and doubling again from 2010 to 2015. In the Fall 2015 semester we had 200 MS students enrolled in the ECE Department, something that neither we nor anyone else at Michigan Tech would have predicted just a few years ago. Of course, we are delighted and gratified to see this level of interest in our programs, and are doing everything we can to meet the student demand.

One of things we have decided to do in response to this “success disaster” is create a new position of Graduate Academic Advisor. Many of these students are international and are new to Michigan Tech when they arrive. At the undergraduate level, the ECE Department has one and a half academic advisors – one full-time who advises 400 students, and one half-time who advises 200 students, roughly. (Aside: hats off to undergraduate advisors Judy Donahue and Trever Hassell, who do an outstanding job.) Using the logic that our 200 or so MS students also need dedicated professional advising, from someone with an academic engineering background, we proposed that the ECE Department create a position that was half-time advising and half-time teaching of advanced courses in areas where we needed to grow. Our proposal was approved by the university administration last summer. I am delighted to report that a successful search was conducted in the fall, and that we have identified the perfect person for the job – Dr. John Pakkala, currently of Milwaukee but soon to be back in the Upper Peninsula. I will have more to say about John after he joins the department this July.

Another aspect of our MS program that needs some attention is the diversity of the student population, in terms of country of origin and also technical area of interest. Right now we have an interesting situation in which the vast majority of our MS students are international, and are interested in power and energy. We can only guess how this situation came to be, although my guess is that it has a lot to do with the efforts of Prof. Bruce Mork and Prof. Leonard Bohmann over ten years ago to put all of our graduate courses in power and energy online. No doubt that created a lot of visibility and notoriety for that part of the Department. There is of course nothing wrong with having a lot of students from abroad – we love our international students and all that they do to create a rich cultural tapestry here at Michigan Tech. At the same time, however, many of our industry partners have openings for positions that require U.S. citizenship. We would also be meeting the needs of a lot of American students themselves by convincing them that an advanced degree would be in their own best interest, and in the interest of the state of Michigan. Therefore, one of our goals right now is to have the growth of the American side of MS student population mirror the growth of the international population.

A few years ago the university quietly created a program intended to do just that, to increase the number of U.S. students in our MS programs, by creating an incentive for our own undergraduates – primarily U.S. citizens – to stay for an extra year and earn that graduate degree. It is called the Accelerated Master of Science program. The crux of the program is this: while the BS degree requires a minimum of 128 credits, and the MS degree 30 credits, students in the Accelerated MS program may double-count 6 credits to apply toward both degrees simultaneously. This brings the total number of credits for the combined BS/MS package down to 152. It’s not a bad deal, and one to which we hope our undergraduates give serious consideration.

This year, under the leadership of the new Dean of the Graduate School, Pushpalatha Murthy, the Graduate School has decided to make a more concerted effort to promote the Accelerated MS programs across the university. The Graduate School is upping the ante by creating a financial incentive in the form of a one-time tuition award for students in their first semester of the MS part of the program. This award, called the Graduate Award for Academic Excellence, or GAEA, requires a nomination by the academic department, with the sole criterion being academic merit. In the ECE Department we are grateful to the Graduate School for recognizing the importance of the program and are optimistic that over the next few years we will be successful in our efforts to continue growing our MS program, in both size and breadth.

This column may not be the best venue for promoting the Accelerated MS program, since I have no idea how many of the readers are our own undergraduates (probably not many). Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to put it out there. Spread the word: the ECE Department at Michigan Tech has a graduate program that all our stakeholders can be proud of, and we are doing everything we can to make it better.

– Dan

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

Fridays with Fuhrmann: A New Year

image_20170106Happy New Year once again to all the followers of the ECE Department at Michigan Tech! Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and productive 2017.

I learned earlier this week that 2017 is a prime number. 2016, on the other hand, has prime factors 2,2,2,2,2,3,3,7. I presume this means we can expect 2017 to be far less divisive than 2016. (I wish I could say I made that up. Credit goes to engineer and comedian Don McMillan, from his weekly e-mail blast.)

Houghton is in the grips of a week-long snow event, not all that unusual for this time of year. Temperatures have dipped down into the positive single digits, and we are getting a slow but steady influx of lake-effect snow. At these temperatures the snow is really light and powdery, so much so that you barely see it in front of your face, until you look up and realize the visibility is like a quarter mile, almost like fog. We can tell it is lake effect snow, since every once in a while one can see the sun trying to poke through. Essentially since there are no clouds – just snow. The skiing should be amazing this weekend if this ever lets up.

I heard about someone in town who has a Dalmatian who got lost out on the ski trails during the heaviest part of the storm. It hasn’t been spotted since. (OK, that one I did make up.)

All seriousness aside…

Let’s talk about resolutions for the new year. I have my personal ones, given some extra weight by the fact that I have a milestone birthday coming up in 2017. We don’t need to go into details; they can best be summarized as “be a better human being.”

In the ECE Department, a good new year’s resolution would be the continued pursuit of, and a renewed commitment to, our strategic goals. Strategic planning and goal setting are part of what we do all the time, in an effort to be the best organization we know how to be. We seek to offer technically challenging and economically relevant educational programs for all our students, and to have those programs undergo a process of continuous improvement. In our research activity we want to provide meaningful solutions for some of our nation’s most pressing technological problems. In both domains, teaching and research, we want to be recognized for our accomplishments, like all academic departments. I believe that the recognition isn’t nearly as important as what we do, but on the other hand without the recognition it is difficult to attract the students and research funding that allow us to continue our work. Prospective students find out about us and judge us by things like the U.S. News and World Report rankings and similar measures, so if we are going to have the opportunity to make a difference in the world then we need to be well-positioned in such rankings.

Right now the ECE Department is nearing the end of a 3-year goal cycle, and in the middle of drafting the strategic goals and a strategic plan for the next three years (these cycles coincide with appointment term of the chair.) Our current goals are grouped into three categories: 1) faculty success and recognition, 2) quality and impact of graduate programs, and 3) quality and impact of undergraduate programs. There are a number of individual sub-goals within those three groups. I will not list all the sub-goals; although they are not secret in any way, they are really more appropriate for internal deliberations, and for discussion with groups like our ECE External Advisory Committee. I will say that some of the goals are fairly straightforward and easy, while others are “stretch” goals that give us something challenging to shoot for – like the size and funding levels for our PhD program, for example.

For most of the faculty our goals are fairly high level and appear somewhat disconnected from what we really get out of bed to do, day in and day out. For example, it is hard to think about a goal of an undergraduate enrollment of N students when one has to prepare the next lecture or grade a stack of exams. However, we all need to remember that “every little bit helps.” If we approach every task, no matter how large or small, with a commitment to quality and excellence then the sum of the parts will be a thriving department.

Sometimes there are critically important tasks that come along that are not really reflected in the goals at all. We have one of those task before us this year – our accreditation by ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. ABET is the independent organization that certifies the quality and consistency of all undergraduate engineering programs in the country, and every six years we have to go through an extensive process demonstrating that our Michigan Tech programs meet national standards for technical rigor and professional relevance. We are preparing all this year, and our efforts will culminate in a lengthy self-study report and a personal review by ABET visitors sometime in the fall. I am happy to say that we were successful in our last visit, in 2010, but of course we will need to work just as hard this year to ensure the same level of success. I am confident that, with the concerted efforts of our ECE ABET Coordinator, John Lukowski, the College of Engineering Associate Dean Leonard Bohmann, and the full and enthusiastic cooperation of all the ECE faculty and staff we will do just fine. So, right up there with our strategic goals, I am putting ABET accreditation on the list of new year’s resolutions for the ECE Department.

I hope all readers are successful with your own resolutions this year. I also hope that those resolutions include some form of engagement with the Michigan Tech ECE Department. Let me know what I can do to help!

– Dan

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

ECE Alumnus Dr. Paul Juodawlkis Named IEEE Fellow

juodawlkis-pDr. Paul Juodawlkis, assistant leader of the Quantum Information and Integrated Nanosystems Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and ECE alumnus, has been named a Fellow of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

Fellow is the IEEE’s highest grade of membership and only one-tenth of 1 percent of the entire membership can be awarded the honor in a given year. The Fellows program honors “those who have contributed greatly to the advancement of engineering, science, and technology.”

Juodawlkis is recognized for his contributions to optically sampled converters and waveguide amplifiers.

“I am happy and deeply honored to be named an IEEE Fellow,” says Dr. Juodawlkis. “I’ve been a member of the IEEE since my undergrad days in electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. Those days were critical to sparking my technical interests in solid-state devices and optoelectronics through classes taught by faculty like Professor Emeritus Anand Kulkarni. More recently, I’ve truly enjoyed having a front-row seat to watch the development and growth of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering over the past 16 years as a member of the department’s External Advisory Committee. When I am on campus, I am sometimes jealous of the opportunities and resources available to today’s Michigan Tech students, and wish that I could go back and do it all over again. Well, maybe except for finals. When I get a chance to offer advice to today’s students, I usually recommend that they make time to meet with their professors even if they don’t need help to learn the course material or to get the grade that they want. One of the main advantages of Michigan Tech is that most of the faculty care about teaching the students, and this teaching involves both explaining the course material and sharing the life lessons that they have learned outside of the classroom.”

Dr. Juodawlkis is also a Fellow of the Optical Society (OSA). He has authored or coauthored more than 130 peer-reviewed journal and conference publications. He has participated on a number of technical program committees, including serving as program co-chair (2010) and general co-chair (2012) of the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO). He was an elected member of the IEEE Photonics Society Board of Governors (2011–2013), served as vice president of membership for the society (2014-2016), and is currently secretary-treasurer for the society. Juodawlkis holds a BS degree from Michigan Technological University, an MS degree from Purdue University, and a PhD degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology, all in electrical engineering.

Fridays with Fuhrmann: Happy New Year!

fwf20161230FWF is taking a break this week. The university has, for all intents and purposes, been shut down for the entire week, and yours truly has been spending holiday time with family and enjoying the many winter recreational opportunities this area affords. We will pick up again in January. Goodbye to 2016, and a very happy and productive 2017 to all!

– Dan

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

Fridays with Fuhrmann: Cheers!!

I wish I could say I wrote the poem below, but alas, all I did was look it up on the Internet. I don’t know what is more remarkable – that someone can be so creative that they can come up with stuff like this, or that we have created a world in which at 11pm the night before a column is due, one can search on “electrical engineering night before Christmas” and something like this instantly appears. Either way, I wish all the readers of this blog a joyous holiday season and the happiest of new years. Enjoy! – Dan

Twas the night before Christmas and all through production,
We were measuring current and checking induction,
Capacitors mounted, diodes seated with care,
In the hope that the circuit soon would be there.

All ICs positioned, each pin seated right,
Our soldering irons were turned off for the night,
Transistors were stowed, not a circuit was shorted,
And resistors all packed, by ohms they were sorted.

But still one more task lay ahead, just for me –
Another few hours on my new PCB,
Just for good measure I gave it a poke,
And the 15 volt rail went up in grey smoke.

Electrolytic capacitors popped and went bang,
Resistors went meltdown, connectors snapped with a twang,
The PSU – open circuit, the current killed diodes,
So I snatched up the solder and reached for my probes.

I pulled out my meter, I prodded and twiddled,
First blew out the ground rail, then re-routed and fiddled,
An inductor coil here and there a resistor,
Transplanted an IC, cross-connected transistor,

A diode reversed and an upgraded cap,
A little more solder to bridge a small gap –
My tolerances tiered to the umpteenth degree,
But still it lay lifeless, that damn PCB!

Then out in the main lab I heard such a clatter,
I tore off my wrist strap to find what was the matter –
In the anti-stat bay a fine sled had appeared,
With reindeer and earth-strap and a man with white beard.

His fine stamping reindeer were led, I did see,
By one whose bright nose was a red LED;
Trimming their harness were components and bits,
Bright coded resistors and surface-mount chips.

The white-bearded man tipped open a sack,
And like jewels some components trickled out of his pack,
With a nod and a wink he heated my iron,
And laid down a fresh circuit of finest gold wire.

Some ICs he placed with great care on the board,
Along with transformers from his own gleaming hoard,
The board was soon finished, held up for inspection,
All test points in place, all power rails checked on.

Then he gathered his meter, his twiddlers and tools,
Scooped up the components which lay like bright jewels,
Gave me a handful and said with a wink,
“I’ve twiddled the RF, please see what you think.”

His sled with its diodes all flashing and bright,
Clattered out of the anti-stat into the night,
Just ‘fore he vanished he reached over his shoulder,
Threw me a new wrist-strap and a big reel of solder.

“On Henry! On Farad! On Voltage and Ohm!
On Ampere, Transformer, reverse-fitted Diode!
We’ve surface-mount circuits and more things electronic!”
As he took to the skies and he went supersonic.

But I heard him exclaim as he vanished from sight,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all no short-circuits!!
– author unknown

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

ECE Annual Report 2016

cover-ece2016annualreportWe are happy to share with you our newly released ECE Annual Report 2016. A look back at our past year highlights research activities by Profs. Bo Chen, Durdu Guney, Saeid Nooshabadi, Sumit Paudyal, and Reza Zekavat; along with Paul Bergstrom’s Faculty Fellow Program appointment and an interview with HKN’s Professor of the Year, Kit Cischke. Staff profile this edition is Michele Kamppinen, honored in May for her 25 years of service to the University. Our graduate student story features recent PhD, Jennifer (Jenn) Winikus, who made great contributions in STEM outreach during her time at Michigan Tech. 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, best wishes for 2017!

Fridays with Fuhrmann: Pomp and Circumstance and Snow

FWF_image_20161216It’s a great day to be a Husky!

Today is the last day of final exams for the Fall 2016 semester; tomorrow we will hold our fall commencement exercises in the Student Development Complex. At Michigan Tech we hold commencement twice a year, once in December and once at the end of the spring semester. It’s convenient for the students graduating in December, about one third of the students graduating each year. Splitting into two ceremonies makes it possible for us to read the names of every graduate getting a diploma as they cross the stage, without being there all day. It’s hard not to feel a little emotional during these rituals, as we see the culmination of a lot of hard work on the part of the students and the faculty. It’s a big moment for all the parents in attendance, to be sure, but as surrogate parents for these young men and women over the past 4-5 years it’s a big moment for us too.

I always enjoy talking to the graduates as we stand in line waiting to enter the gym. I typically ask the same two questions: what was your favorite course or instructor, and what are you doing after graduation? On the first question, I have come to anticipate the answer, knowing that we have a handful of instructors in the ECE Department that consistently go above and beyond in carrying out their teaching responsibilities. Every once in a while I am very pleasantly surprised to hear a name I have not heard before, to learn that someone is growing as a teacher and is reaching out to students in new and different ways. The second question is always fun, as I know that all of our ECE graduates who have been seeking jobs will have one. Michigan Tech performs very well in college rankings that emphasize “return on investment.” That is a reflection of everything we do here, both in our rigorous academic programs and through all the support activity from Career Services and Student Affairs. One of the stories creating some buzz around the department this year is that one of our BS graduates received and accepted a job offer with a six-figure salary – not in California, either, but right here in Michigan! I know it’s not all about the money, but I do believe that the value of a Michigan Tech education, both to the students and to prospective employers, is something to be proud of.

All of this hoopla is taking place against a backdrop of a sudden change in the weather. Some readers may recall my writing (OK, whining) in recent columns about the late and warm fall we have had this year. Well, no more. With a shift in the weather patterns, we are getting cold arctic air blowing from the northwest across Lake Superior and churning up the lake effect snow machine, big time. According the Keweenaw Research Center out by the airport, the one measurement I trust, we have had 41 inches of snow in December as of noon Wednesday. Much of this past week we were under a blizzard warning, and in a lapse of good judgment I happened to be out on one of our local highways Tuesday morning in the worst white-out conditions I have experienced since moving to Houghton. (I made it home safe and sound, thank you very much.) The cross-country ski trails opened up quickly and are good to go. To my astonishment, I learned that Mont Ripley, Michigan Tech’s own ski hill right here in town, opens today. Guess where I’m going to be Saturday right after commencement!

– Dan

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

Fridays with Fuhrmann: On The Hill

FWF_image_20161209This week I had the opportunity to join Wayne Pennington, our Dean of the College of Engineering, and Brent Burns, the Director of Federal and Industry Relations, on a two-day trip to Washington, D.C. The purpose was to meet some of our congressional delegations and to host an alumni event for Huskies in the DC area. I do not have a lot of experience in government relations as it relates to my role as department chair, but I should probably be doing more of that and so the trip was valuable and educational for me.

I came away with a number of different impressions. First, the city of Washington itself seems alive and well. The iconic landmarks themselves – the Capitol building, the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, all the museums, and much more – are really quite beautiful, and it is hard to be down on the mall without feeling a strong sense of national pride. Despite all the bickering and acrimony we have seen this year, the work of government is really very important and I am glad that our Nation’s capital stands as a beacon for the rest of the world, a stately setting for democracy in action. Beyond the mall the city seems to be thriving economically and culturally, which is a positive change over the years that I have visited. It is an energizing place just to walk around.

The political mood of the people I met was not as polarized as I expected. I think everyone, no matter their political persuasion, agrees that there are going to be some changes with the incoming administration, but most have no idea what to expect. If there is one thing we can probably all agree on, it is that Donald Trump is unpredictable. So, there is a lot of curiosity not necessarily anxiety. It’s more like they are waiting for the show to start and expecting to be entertained. Of course, everyone we were talking to is intelligent, well-educated, and ambitious, so they are likely to land on their feet no matter what happens. I suspect there is a lot more anxiety out on the margins of society.

I was struck by how youthful everyone was, except for the senators and representatives themselves. Let’s face it, Washington in a young person’s town. They find positions in the various administrations as staffers and aides, work like crazy 24/7 until they burn out, and then move on. I guess that’s not a bad thing. As I said above, the work of government is important, and there is value in having smart, energetic young people doing all the day-to-day work you never hear about. It did make me feel old though.

We wrapped up Wednesday evening by attending an all-Michigan holiday party in a beautifully decorated space in one of the congressional office buildings. It was attended by senators, representatives, lots of the aforementioned young staffers, Michigan businesses with offices in D.C., and university representatives including us. There was plenty of opportunity for networking, and an abundance of wonderful food and drink. On the dessert table they had, among many other goodies, some cute little Michigan cookies – see adjacent photo.FWF_image_20161209_2 Question: what’s wrong with this picture?

– Dan

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