Category: Faculty

Fridays with Fuhrmann: Congratulations graduates!

FWF_image_20160506Well, 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!

– Dan

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

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Fridays with Fuhrmann: It’s a great time to be an ECE!

ECE Woman of Promise, Alexis Dani, presented by ECE chair Dan Fuhrmann
ECE Woman of Promise, Alexis Dani, presented by ECE chair Dan Fuhrmann

Happy Tax Day everyone! Actually the real Tax Day this year isn’t until Monday, and that’s a good thing considering how busy things have been in the ECE Department this week. Here’s a little factoid I just learned this week: April 15 is the birthday of Swiss mathematician, physicist, and astronomer Leonhard Euler (1707). Everyone knows Euler’s Formula, right?

This is the time when all our seniors are wrapping up their Senior Design and Enterprise projects, and we have a lot of visitors in town to see what we are doing and to help us out with the evaluation of the projects.

The ECE External Advisory Committee, or EAC, is here for the Spring 2016 meeting. This is a group of about a dozen industry representatives, most of them Tech alumni, who visit us twice a year to help us in our quest for continuous improvement. A lot of their time in the spring meeting is devoted to judging Senior Design and Enterprise projects, which happened yesterday (Thursday April 14). We had a total of 24 projects this year, and each project team is required to present their results and field questions in a 45-minute session. All of the ECE faculty and the graduate student TAs also participated in the judging. This is a great day in the life of the ECE Department, when we get to see all the hard work of the students over four years brought to fruition. My thanks to everyone, especially the EAC, that helped make the day a success.

We concluded the day with the Senior Awards Banquet at the Memorial Union Ballroom. Here we recognize both individuals and teams for their outstanding contributions to the ECE Department.

The individual student award winners are:

ECE Woman of Promise / Martha Sloan Scholarship: Alexis Dani (pictured above)
ECE Departmental Scholar: Derek Gheller
Carl S. Schjonberg Outstanding Senior: Ian Cummings

Derek Gheller, ECE Departmental Scholar
Derek Gheller, ECE Departmental Scholar
Ian Cummings, Carl S. Schjonberg ECE Outstanding Senior
Ian Cummings, Carl S. Schjonberg ECE Outstanding Senior

The Larry Kennedy Industry Innovation Award, the award given by the EAC to the top design project in the department, went to Senior Design Team 8, Traveling Wave Fault Location, sponsored by American Transmission Company (ATC) with faculty advisor John Lukowski.

L-R:  ATC's Joe Kysely, SD8 members Jacob Marshall and Kevin Schoenknecht (Troy Johnston not pictured), SD assistant/ECE PhD student Dustin Drumm, and team advisor Prof. John Lukowski
L-R: ATC’s Joe Kysely, SD8 members Jacob Marshall and Kevin Schoenknecht (Troy Johnston not pictured), SD assistant/ECE PhD student Dustin Drumm, and team advisor Prof. John Lukowski

Finally, the Eta Kappa Nu (HKN) Professor of the Year award was given to Senior Lecture Kit Cischke. Kit teaches many of the core courses in our computer engineering program, and is the faculty advisor for the Wireless Communications Enterprise. He does a fabulous job and all the students love him. Congratulations Kit, and thanks for all you do!

Professor of the Year, Senior Lecturer Kit Cischke, presented by HKN's Matthew Andres
Professor of the Year, Senior Lecturer Kit Cischke, presented by HKN’s Matthew Andres

Earlier in the week we had a visit from another “unofficial” advisory group – a group of 5 industry leaders and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, led by Brocade CEO Dave House. Dave has been a very good friend of the ECE Department for many years, and in fact you may recognize his name from the professorship that I hold. Dave and company were here to advise and encourage the entire university, not just the ECE Department, on matters of innovation, entrepreneurship, and where technology is headed from their point of view. Dave has been very influential on my thinking about the importance of building closer ties among the ECE Department, the Department of Computer Science, and the School of Technology. On Tuesday I was very pleased to be able to report to the group that the performance results in the new Institute of Computing and Cybersystems, measured in new research awards, research expenditures, publications, and student support, was much higher than expected. The ICC is the most significant effort arising from the joint activity of the three units mentioned above, and so it is gratifying to see things coming together as they are.

On top of all that, we had some fantastic news from the ECE faculty this week. Assistant Professors Durdu Guney, Timothy Havens, and Chee-Wooi Ten have all been recommended by the Provost for promotion to the rank of Associate Professor, with tenure. The final vote will be taken at a meeting of the Board of Trustees in two weeks’ time. My congratulations to Durdu, Tim, and Chee-Wooi on reaching this major milestone – we expect many great things from them in the years to come.

All for now. Get those taxes in!

– Dan

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

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ECE well represented at the SPIE Photonics West

SPIE Photonics West attendees and presenters: (L-R)Abhinav Madhavachandran, Arash Hosseinzadeh, Derek Burrell (SPIE/OSA MTU chapter president, Liz Dreyer (Cloos), Anindya Majumdar, Mitch Kirby, and Nima Taherkhani
SPIE Photonics West attendees and presenters: (L-R) Abhinav Madhavachandran, Arash Hosseinzadeh, Derek Burrell (SPIE/OSA MTU chapter president), Liz Dreyer (Cloos), Anindya Majumdar, Mitch Kirby, and Nima Taherkhani

Michigan Technological University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), along with Departments Biomedical Engineering (BME) and Physics were well represented at the annual SPIE Photonics West conference held in San Francisco, CA, on February 13-18, 2016.

Arash Hosseinzadeh, PhD candidate in electrical engineering, Derek Burrell, BSEE senior and SPIE/OSA MTU chapter president, and Mitch Kirby, BSBE (EE minor) presented papers and research findings on topics:  Design and optimization of polymer ring resonator modulators for analog microwave photonic applications, Comparison of self-written waveguide techniques and bulk index matching for low-loss polymer waveguide interconnects, and Effects of incident intensity on laser speckle contrast imaging.

BME Chair Sean Kirkpatrick was session chair and moderator and ECE Prof. Chris Middlebrook co-authored two papers presented. Also attended were Nima Taherkhani, MSEE candidate, and ECE alumna Liz (Cloos) Dreyer ’12, currently a PhD pre-candidate in electrical engineering (optics) at the University of Michigan, Abhinav Madhavachandran, MSBE candidate, and Anindya Majumdar, PhD candidate Physics.

Student travel was partially funded by Michigan Tech’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and Graduate Student Government (GSG).

See more information on the SPIE/OSA MTU Chapter see mtu.osahost.org.

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Fridays with Fuhrmann: Michigan Tech’s Winter Wonderland

FWF_image_rev3_20160205This week Michigan Tech is celebrating its annual Winter Carnival. The students have Thursday and Friday off from classes, and there are a lot of winter-related activities going on. The most visible sign of Winter Carnival for most of us is the collection of interesting and creative snow sculptures that have popped up all over campus. These attract a lot of visitors and media attention, and are a lot of fun.

Up to now I have used this column to write about electrical and computer engineering, and engineering education, but I thought this week it would be appropriate to take a break and write about something else that Michigan Tech is famous for: snow.

Michigan Tech is, according to AccuWeather.com and some other polls, the snowiest campus in the United States, with over 200 inches of the white stuff per year on average. Snow is definitely part of who we are, part of our heritage and culture. In a typical winter the snow starts up around Thanksgiving, gets pretty serious in December and January, then stretches into February and March, sometimes even into April. The city and the university are all geared up to handle the snow; they keep the roads plowed and haul the snow away to snow dumps out of town when necessary. All the residents of Houghton – most, anyway – have a plan to handle the snow in their driveways, sidewalks and lawns. We take it all in stride. To be honest, most of us are “snow snobs” laughing with derision at poor souls further south when a couple of inches brings a city to its knees.

200 inches of snow sounds like a lot – and I guess it is – but for the most part it is pretty benign. One can see major winter storms on the national news that dump one or two feet of snow all at once on some unfortunate region, and even though that can happen here too it’s actually pretty rare. The reason we get so much snow is in the first place is something called “lake effect”, in which cold Arctic air blows down out of Canada from the north and west, across Lake Superior, picking up moisture from the warmer water, forming snow in the air and then dumping it on the Upper Peninsula when it hits land. Lake effect snow doesn’t need inclement weather to happen; I have seen snow falling and the sun shining all at the same time. Of course, we can also get what is called “system snow”, meaning the same kind of winter storm systems that can happen anywhere in the upper Midwest. Our biggest events occur when both happen at the same time, something they call “lake effect enhanced snow.” My main point here is that you don’t need major blizzards to create 200 inches of snow in a year. You just need a little bit at a time, over an extended period of around 4 months, and as long as the temperatures remain cold it just piles up.

So what is all this snow good for? In a word, plenty. Houghton residents and Michigan Tech students know that the best way to deal with the snow is to get out and enjoy it. One of my favorite activities is skiing, both downhill and cross-country. (I’m not particularly good at it, but I don’t let that stop me). For downhill skiing, Michigan Tech has its own Mont Ripley, just across the Portage from Houghton. It’s not a huge hill, only 450 feet vertical, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in convenience. I have a season pass and can go on a moment’s notice. Don’t let the small size fool you, either: it has plenty of challenging runs. For the more adventurous skier, an hour away near Copper Harbor, is the cult favorite Mount Bohemia. This place is for expert skiers only (the trail map says “No Beginners Allowed” in bold letters) with 900 feet vertical and almost entirely black diamond runs, and none of it groomed. It includes 400 acres of glade skiing too with some of that rated as double and triple black diamond. With a bare minimum of amenities at the bottom, Bohemia is paradise for ski nuts. If cross-country skiing is your thing, there are four different trails systems right in the local area, including an extensive set of trails owned and operated by Michigan Tech. This is a world-class facility in every sense; Michigan Tech has played host to Olympic trials and just last month hosted the U.S. national cross-country championships. The conditions are usually great, the trails are well maintained, and the scenery is beautiful. My only complaint, as a “classic” or “glide” skier, is having to put up with those healthier-than-thou “skate” skiers as they go zipping past me in their garish spandex outfits!

There is plenty to do besides skiing of course. Snowshoeing is a favorite activity for many. For those who prefer their winter sports indoors, hockey is very popular and in fact there are a number of ECE faculty members who play in a local recreational league. The ECE Department puts on a student-faculty hockey game every December. They even got me out on the ice my first year in the department (just once.) For those who like motorized sports, snowmobiling is big around here too. You might think there would be tension between the “natural” outdoors types and the snowmobilers, but in my observation the two camps have reached a sort of peaceful coexistence. The snowmobiles have their own set of trails which are quite extensive, covering hundreds of miles of old railroad beds across the U.P. (one would NEVER mix skiing and snowmobiling on the same trail system.) It can be a little noisy sometimes, but you get used to it quickly, and most people recognize the economic benefit to the region. People come from all over to ride our snowmobile trails, and the years we do the best are the ones when we have snow when others don’t, like in Wisconsin, Illinois, and downstate Michigan. There is snowmobile parking on the Michigan Tech campus, and once you get past the novelty it seems perfectly ordinary.

So there you have it – Michigan Tech, in addition to all of its contributions in science, technology, engineering, and math, is a winter wonderland. This is a unique place to live, work, and play. Students and alumni reading this know exactly what I’m talking about. Everybody else, you are welcome to visit – we’d love to show it to you.

– Dan

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

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Fridays with Fuhrmann – Teamwork without Borders

Google_2015_logo5I am writing today from beautiful Boulder, Colorado, where I have been attending a research progress review on a project I have been working on, along with other Michigan Tech faculty and students.  The project is sponsored by Google.  Michigan Tech is fortunate to be a research partner with Google on something they call a Multi-University Research Agreement, or MURA.  I can’t tell you the technical details of what we are doing, yet, but later this year everything will be made public.

Having observed how this project is managed over the past year, I am struck by how much the workplace, the team organizations, and the expectations of engineers have changed over the years.  This has been a great experience for me, not only because the work is interesting but because it gives me a glimpse of what our graduates can expect as they enter the workforce.

One of the most remarkable things I have noticed is how collaboration tools have made the world a smaller place, and have made geographical differences practically irrelevant.  The team working on this project, about 30 people all together, comprises full-time Google employees, independent contractors, engineering companies, and university teams like ours from Michigan Tech.  The group is spread out from Hawaii, to California, to Michigan, and to Europe.  Subsets of the team meet regularly via Google Hangout, which is a pretty easy-to-use teleconferencing tool, and it is like being in the same room (there is the one remaining issue of time zones, but most people don’t have a big problem with it.)   Even when most of the group gets together in the same city, like this week, there are still those who call in and contribute.

The success or failure of this project (and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be successful) depends on the ability of all the participants to work together as a team.  This week we had discussions about how things went in 2015, and the overall consensus was that the teamwork was pretty good.  It reminds me of why it is so important for us at Michigan Tech to teach our students about teamwork in our capstone projects, whether in Senior Design or Enterprise.  They are going to be working on teams when they leave the university, and knowing how to collaborate, how to get along, how to get work done on time, how to communicate, how to make expectations clear for others – these are all things that are going to be critical skills for career success.  The other side of teamwork that we stress at Michigan Tech is the development of individual skills.  Everyone on this Google project has a seat at the table because they are really good at what they do, and I don’t imagine that’s going to be any different anywhere else.

Finally, I will mention that the nature of engineering careers is changing rapidly.  Certainly there will be those that work full-time for a large corporation, and maybe they stay with that corporation a long time.  On the other hand, there are those that work for corporations, but change jobs often.  Others work as independent contractors, coming and going from teams as their skills are needed.  I am fascinated by these engineers, at least the ones I have seen in this group: they are extraordinarily talented in their particular area of expertise, and because of all the collaboration tools available today they can live wherever they want.   In all of these cases I am just talking about engineers selling their time and expertise; I haven’t begun to talk about entrepreneurship, which is another avenue that engineers are increasingly exploring.  The bottom line is, if an engineer is good at what he or she does, their career arc and their lifestyle is limited only by the imagination.

At Michigan Tech we do our best to prepare students for this new engineering environment of the 21st century.  I am always open to feedback about how well we are doing.

Being able to travel to meetings like this has its perks.  On Friday, when this is posted, I’ll be taking a vacation day and skiing at Loveland Pass, in the Rocky Mountains not too far Denver.  Finally, I have a chance to see if all my time spent on Mont Ripley has done me any good!

– Dan

Dan Fuhrmann, Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University

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Follow ECE on Social Media

MTU_ECE_smphotoThe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) is now on Facebook and Twitter. Like and follow us for faculty spotlights, student accomplishments, outreach and events, industry and alumni news, and more; including a weekly post from the chair in “Fridays with Fuhrmann”. We hope you’ll add us to your social media picks.

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ECE Annual Report 2015

ECE Annul Report 2015
ECE Annul Report 2015

We are happy to share with you our newly released ECE Annual Report 2015. A look back at our past year highlights research activities by Profs. Zhaohui Wang, Wayne Weaver, Bruce Mork, and Mike Roggemann, along with ECE’s involvement in Michigan Tech’s new research agreement with Google ATAP. 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! Our undergraduate programs added two new concentrations starting Fall 2015 – Biomedical Applications and Environmental Applications within the Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. We invite you to read about these stories and more. From all of us at ECE, best wishes for 2016!

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Zhaohui Wang Receives Outstanding Service Award

Zhaohui Wang resized
Zhaohui Wang, ECE Assistant Professor

Zhaohui Wang, Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech University, received the Outstanding Service Award for her work as Information Systems Chair in the 10th ACM International Conference on Underwater Networks & Systems (WUWNet), held in Washington DC, October 22-24, 2015. The scope of the WUWNet conference covers a broad range of research directions relevant to underwater networks and network-related signal processing, communications, systems, and applications. The goal of WUWNet is to bring together researchers and practitioners in areas relevant to underwater networks, and serve as a forum for presenting state of the art research, exchanging ideas and experiences, and facilitating interaction and collaboration.

WUWNet’15 link: http://wuwnet.acm.org/2015/

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Kit Cischke Selected for Dean’s Teaching Showcase

Kit Cischke, ECE Sr. Lecturer
Kit Cischke, ECE Sr. Lecturer

The Dean’s Teaching Showcase nominee for this week comes from the College of Engineering. Dean Wayne Pennington has chosen to recognize Kit Cischke, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and faculty advisor for the Wireless Communication Enterprise.

Associate Dean Leonard Bohmann indicates that the “students love Kit because he brings his practical experience into the class, showing the practical applications of the theory.” As evidence, Eta Kappa Nu, the Electrical and Computer Engineering student honor society, selected Kit as their Professor of the Year in both 2013 and 2014. Bohmann continues: “Kit has the ability to make complex topics easy to understand. He works hard to get students to understand and have fun doing it.”

Kit indicates that he does this through analogies, humor, and being open and approachable to students. He strives to be a “complete human being” with his students, sharing stories about his family and life. He also tries to “embrace technology”, using an iPad to deliver his lectures and an audio recorder so students can review them.

Kit has a long history of excellent teaching contributions at Michigan Tech. Brian Broeders, an alumnus who has been working as a product engineer for Plexus Engineering Solutions since 2009, praised Kit in a 2010 Linked In post for similar reasons. “He teaches class material in a clear and easy to understand format and his lab exercises help students make use of topics learned in class…I wish I had more instructors like him when I was in school.” Current students also praise his involvement as an organizational advisor and the fact that he really cares whether students are learning the material.

Cischke will be formally recognized with the 11 other Dean’s Teaching Showcase nominees at a luncheon near the end of spring term. Please join Dean Pennington and the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning in thanking Kit for his outstanding contributions to the teaching mission of the College of Engineering.

Story as posted in Tech Today, March 25, 2015

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