Fridays with Fuhrmann: News From Week 13, 2018 Edition

design-expo-bookToday is the last regular day of classes at Michigan Tech for the 2017-2018 academic year. Next week is Finals Week, which then leads into Commencement on Saturday, May 5. How time flies when you are having fun!

This is always a busy time of year for me, although having been in this job for 10 years now I have come to expect it and plan for it. What was a little harder to plan for this year was the added stress of wrapping up the work of the Computing and Information Sciences Working Group, and the launch of our new online MS program in partnership with Keypath Education. Just to top it off I had a mild case of the flu which had me going from one meeting to the next like the walking dead. I’m not complaining though – what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, and I am grateful and energized by having meaningful work to do.

Michigan Tech students, especially graduating seniors, celebrate the last day of classes with a tradition we call the Senior Walk, a pub crawl that makes its way from Hancock to Houghton in the late afternoon and evening. I am on a bit of a Senior Walk myself, on my way to California with my wife to spend time with good friends in the wine country near Healdsburg. It’s a short trip, and I will follow that up by heading to Yuma, Arizona, to offer a little moral support to our students in the GM/SAE AutoDrive Challenge as they put their autonomous vehicle through the Year 1 Competition. I will make it back just in time for some year-end meetings, and of course commencement.

Last week is what we call Week 13 in the academic calendar, the culmination of all our Senior Design and Enterprise projects. We followed our usual schedule, with the student presentations all morning on Thursday, the Design Expo on Thursday afternoon, and the ECE Senior Banquet in the evening. The ECE External Advisory Committee was in town, serving as judges for the projects and presentations. The entire ECE faculty gets in the act too; I ask everyone to sit in on at least two presentations and provide written feedback.

At the Senior Banquet we give out a number of awards to our top students, our top projects, and one special faculty member.

Following a tradition we started last year, we recognized all the student volunteers who help with Fall Open House, Spring Preview Day, departmental tours for prospective high school students, calling campaigns, and similar activities. These students act as ambassadors for Michigan Tech and the ECE Department. They believe in what we are trying to do here with our educational programs, and do an outstanding job of communicating that enthusiasm to others. We are deeply grateful to them for all they do.

L-R: Sarah Wade, Lanna Pirkola, Kyle Ludwig, Stephen Grulke, Derek Gheller, Derek Burrell, Christine Cauley; Missing from photo: Shaun Flynn, Meghan Friske, Mitchell Paris, Max Pletcher, DeShawn Presley, Jake Soter, Jack Swanberg
L-R: Sarah Wade, Lanna Pirkola, Kyle Ludwig, Stephen Grulke, Derek Gheller, Derek Burrell, Christine Cauley; Missing from photo: Shaun Flynn, Meghan Friske, Mitchell Paris, Max Pletcher, DeShawn Presley, Jake Soter, Jack Swanberg

Each year we give three awards to top undergraduate students in the ECE Department. The first is the ECE Departmental Scholar Award. It is given to a student who will have senior status next academic year, and represents the best in student scholarship in the department. The Departmental Scholar is our nomination for the Provost’s Award for Scholarship, a university-wide award that is announced the following Friday. The winner of ECE Departmental Scholar for 2018 is Elizabeth (Liz) Adams. Liz is an electrical engineering major with a departmental GPA of 3.92. She participates in the LEAP program, where she served as a near-peer mentor for students in Engineering Fundamentals 1101, answering students questions and teaching a one-hour lesson each week. Other activities at Michigan Tech include being a member of the Society of Women Engineers, Vice-President of the Fencing Club, and a project manager for Concrete Canoe. Faculty members Mike Roggemann and Kit Cischke both had high praise for Liz’ academic ability and intellectual curiosity.

ECE 2018 Departmental Scholar: Elizabeth (Liz) Adams
ECE 2018 Departmental Scholar: Elizabeth (Liz) Adams

Our second student award is the ECE Woman of Promise. The goal of this program, which is connected to the Presidential Council of Alumnae, is to recognize women at Michigan Tech who go “above and beyond” what is expected of them in terms of being a well-rounded student – those who have demonstrated academic achievement, campus and community leadership, good citizenship, and creativity. This year’s ECE Woman of Promise is Christine Cauley. Christine is an electrical engineering major with a GPA of 3.46. She was nominated by ECE academic advisor Judy Donahue, who writes “Christine is a cheerful ambassador of the ECE Department as she has helped with the Fall Open House department tour. She is a member of the Wireless Communications Enterprise, and is a Project Leader for her team, which worked on a bird-window collision sensor. She is a member of the Blue Key National Honor Society and Co-Chair for the Queens Committee. Christine was a guest speaker for the Michigan Tech’s Fall Open House event. She goes above and beyond, demonstrating campus and community leadership while successfully pursuing the BSEE, and is deserving of the award.”

ECE 2018 Woman of Promise, Martha Sloan Scholarship recipient: Christine Cauley
ECE 2018 Woman of Promise, Martha Sloan Scholarship recipient: Christine Cauley

The third and final student award in the ECE Department is the Carl S. Schjonberg Award for Outstanding Undergraduate in the ECE Department. This award was established to honor a long-time faculty member in the ECE Department and is given to our top student, usually a graduating senior. The Schjonberg Award recipient for this year is Lanna Pirkola. Lanna is a 3rd-year senior with a departmental GPA of 4.0. She plans to graduate in December 2018, in only three and a half years. She has served on the departmental Undergraduate Advisory Board, and is a member of Eta Kappa Nu. She is a recipient of the Michigan Tech Presidential Scholarship of Distinction, and the Air Force Recruiting Service Mathematics and Science Award. She is an absolutely top-rate student who works very very hard and will make us proud when she enters the workforce. Congratulations Lanna!

Carl S. Schjonberg Award: Lanna Pirkola
Carl S. Schjonberg Award: Lanna Pirkola

The ECE External Advisory Committee awards the Larry Kennedy Industry Innovation Award to the top ECE student project, based on the project reports and presentations from earlier in the day. This year the top prize went to the project titled “Medical Device Tool One-Way Communication Emulator” sponsored by Stryker Medical. This is the second year in a row that a Stryker project has taken the top prize, so they certainly must be doing something right to inspire the students and give them something meaty to work on. Congratulations to advisor Trever Hassell and all the students on a job well done.

L-R: advisor Trever Hassell, Kyle Ludwig, Benjamin Schaedig, Morgan English, Justin Evankovich, Charles Lubitz
L-R: advisor Trever Hassell, Kyle Ludwig, Benjamin Schaedig, Morgan English, Justin Evankovich, Charles Lubitz

Although not part of the Senior Banquet festivities on that Thursday evening, this is a good place to mention how the ECE Department fared in the Michigan Tech Design Expo, which is a university-wide event held on Thursday afternoon in the MUB, where students set up posters describing their projects and explain their work to judges and other attendees. For the first time in as long as I can remember, an ECE Department project won the best Senior Design project! The project was “Performance and Protection Characterization of Plug and Play Solar Systems”, sponsored by Consumers Energy. The faculty advisor was Prof. Sumit Paudyal, and the student team was Lauren Clark, Erik Romanski, Gabe Simmering, and Jason Wesley. I couldn’t be more pleased with this result. The ECE project titled “Human Machine Interface (HMI) Anunciator Replacement” took Honorable Mention in the Senior Design Projects, and our Wireless Communication Enterprise, advised by Kit Cischke, took Third Place in the Enterprise category.

The final award for the Senior Banquet is the announcement by the students in Eta Kappa Nu of their choice for Professor of the Year. I am delighted to report that this year the students selected Prof. Sumit Paudyal. Sumit has made a name for himself in the past six years as an outstanding instructor, although that reputation is based primarily on his teaching in graduate courses in the power and energy program. With only a little exposure to our undergraduates through a senior-level power systems course, and his acting as advisor for the project that took the top prize in Design Expo, our undergraduates have immediately recognized what an enormous asset Prof. Paudyal is for the department. In addition to this award, this year Sumit won an NSF CAREER award and is being promoted to the rank of Associate Professor, with tenure. It’s an academic trifecta! On top of all that, Sumit and his wife Saru Bhattarai had their first baby this year! Sometimes the universe just lines everything up in the same direction at the same time. I am delighted for all the good things that are coming Sumit’s way, and proud to call him a member of the Michigan Tech ECE Department.

HKN representative Sandra Cvetanovic presents the Professor of the Year Award to Sumit Paudyal
HKN representative Sandra Cvetanovic presents the Professor of the Year Award to Sumit Paudyal

Next week (probably) – news from Arizona. To all our students – good luck with finals!

– Dan

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


Kernel Classification Paper is a CIS Publication Spotlight

Kernel Classification showing  an array of circles representing a lattice of FM elementsTony Pinar (ECE), Tim Havens (ECE/CS) and Joe Rice’s (CS) paper, titled “Efficient Multiple Kernel Classification Using Feature and Decision Level Fusion,” in IEEE Transactions on Fuzzy Systems was one of two papers from the transactions featured in IEEE Computational Intelligence Magazine as a CIS Publication Spotlight.

DOI: 10.1109/TFUZZ.2016.2633372

Extract: Kernel methods for classification is a well-studied area in which data are implicitly mapped from a lower-dimensional space to a higher dimensional space to improve classification accuracy. However, for most kernel methods, one must still choose a kernel to use for the problem. Since there is, in general, no way of knowing which kernel is the best, multiple kernel learning (MKL) is a technique used to learn the aggregation of a set of valid kernels into a single (ideally) superior kernel.

Read more at III Xplore Digital Library.


Joshua Pearce on 3D Printing for Scientific and Humanitarian Use

Joshua Pearce speaking with another man.
Joshua Pearce at the University of Lorraine

Joshua Pearce (MSE/ECE) gave an invited talk for the University of Lorraine entitled “Will you 3D print your next lab? : Leveraging Improvements in Distributed Manufacturing for Open Source Scientific Hardware” at the Lorraine Fab Living Lab in Nancy, France.

The visit was covered by the regional newspaper L’Est Republicain(circulation >123,000).

In Print

Joshua Pearce (MSE/ECE) authored the chapter “Open-source 3D Printing” in “Managing Humanitarian Innovation: The cutting edge of aid.” Editors: Eric James and Abigail Taylor, 2018, Practical Action Publishing.

eISBN: 978-178044-953-1 | ISBN: 978-185339-953-4 doi:https://doi.org/10.3362/9781780449531.021

Joshua Pearce (MSE/ECE) authored “Expanding the Consumer Bill of Rights for material ingredients,” in Materials Today.

In the News

Joshua Pearce (MSE/ECE), John Gershenson (MEEM), and alumni Tobias J. Mahan and Benjamin L. Savonen are mentioned in the article “Researchers Develop the Kijenzi 3D Printer to Respond to Humanitarian Crises,” in 3DPrint.com.

Research by Joshua Pearce (MSE/ECE), was featured in the story “Solar Microgrids for National Security: Study Finds 17 GW Could Fortify US Military Bases,” originally posted in May, 2017. The story was referenced recently in Microgrid Knowledge.

On the Road

Joshua Pearce (MSE/ECE) gave an invited talk, “Production for the People: How open source hardware design and 3D printing enable real distributed manufacturing,” at the 20th Finnish Rapid Prototyping Association Conference and Nordic3DExpo last Thursday (April 19) in Espoo, Finland.


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Michigan Tech’s 10th President

richard-j-koubek-outdoorThis morning at 10am, with just the right amount of drama, suspense, and fanfare, the Michigan Tech Board of Trustees in a special meeting announced the selection of Dr. Richard J. Koubek as the 10th president of the University. Dr. Koubek will take office on July 1, 2018.

Dr. Koubek was introduced at the meeting, which was very well attended as you might imagine, and made a few opening remarks. He and his wife Valerie are on campus today for a quick introduction to the entire university community, spread out over multiple events. I hope he understands there will not be a quiz at the end of the day.

Michigan Tech has a web page announcing the selection, which has lots of good information about the president-elect. See http://www.mtu.edu/president-elect.

Obviously we as a community are just now getting to know Dr. Koubek for the first time. So far I am impressed with his credentials, his accomplishments, and his demeanor. All indications are that this is an outstanding selection; I congratulate and thank the Presidential Search Committee and the Board of Trustees. I am excited and optimistic about the future of this institution – as I always have been.

– Dan

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


Sweidan and Havens Publish on Target Tracking

Husam Sweidan
Husam Sweidan

Husam Sweidan, PhD student in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Timothy Havens (ECE), published an article entitled, “Sensor Relocation for Improved Target Tracking,” in the April, 2018, volume of IET Wireless Sensor Systems.

DOI: 10.1049/iet-wss.2017.0037 , Print ISSN 2043-6386, Online ISSN 2043-6394

Extract: In the first phase, the wireless sensor network tracks the targets based on the initial deployment. The second phase uses the location estimates from phase 1 to form a region of interest (ROI). The last phase carries out the sensor relocation to the ROI.


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Magic and Daring

FWF-image-20180323_ljh
Last weekend, at the tail end of a long trip out west that included both fun and work, I attended the annual meeting of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association, or ECEDHA, in Monterey, California. I spent a highly enjoyable couple of days in meetings and social events with my colleagues from other ECE departments across the country. We compared notes on a wide variety of topics of mutual interest, and thought about ways we can learn from each other about continuous improvement of our organizations and programs.

This year there was a parallel workshop specifically for communicators from ECE departments. Lisa Hitch, the ECE Business Manager and Technical Communications Specialist, attended that workshop. I have asked her to serve as a guest blogger this week and relate her experience. Lisa, take it away! -Dan


Nearly 300 academics, made up of ECE department chairs/heads, deans, faculty, lab managers and graduate students came together this past week in Monterey, CA for the 2018 ECEDHA Annual Conference and Expo. For the first time in its 34 years, those who communicate the messages of their respective ECE departments across the nation were invited to join. Though the titles varied from communications officer, specialist, manager and director, the responsibilities were very much the same – sharing the stories of our faculty, students, and alumni to a wide variety of audiences through many different channels.

We are the story tellers and had come together to sharpen our skills, learn from best practices, and be introduced to a new branding strategy developed by Tailfin Marketing to raise the visibility of the field of ECE to prospective students and the general public. Through the efforts of Catharine June from the University of Michigan and Ashlee Gardner from Georgia Tech, an ECE communicators group (we now like to call our Tribe) was formed.

The group was introduced to a branding toolkit and we were quickly put to the test to develop a poster, within 15 minutes, to promote current research within our departments and present our ideas to the group. At first it seemed a little overwhelming but to all of our relief it was actually quite easy and fun by using the creative framework. And it helps when you have great stories to tell that build on the ECE concepts of “magic, daring and limitless applications.”

It’s ECE’s time to shine and we, as ECE story tellers, are now better prepared to spread the word of the vast opportunities a career in the field can provide.

I’ll wrap up my guest blog post with the following ECE Brand Manifesto courtesy of Tailfin Marketing.

You may think that ECE is magic – and it kind of is.

Because ECE is filled with daring visionaries and bright minds who engage, imagine and invent.

We are the masters of power and energy and light and systems that can turn science fiction into living, breathing science.

We are the force that connects people and technologies with elegant devices that fit in the palm of your hand and colossal systems that are beyond imagination.

We are the spark, the energy, and the catalyst – the generators of ideas, champions of possibility and the fuel for change.

We dream big, bet big, and see it through, because we know it’s our job to help shape a better world for all.

Is that magic? Almost. And we’d love to show you how it works.

Lisa

Lisa Hitch
Business Manager and Technical Communications Specialist
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Postcard from California

Golden Gate Bridge

All this week I have been in the San Francisco Bay Area, either accompanying the Michigan Tech student group on their Silicon Valley Experience, or off doing side visits to alumni and companies on my own. Monday evening the students and I attended a delightful Michigan Tech alumni reception, hosted by Dave House on his beautiful hilltop property in Saratoga overlooking all of Silicon Valley. The weather was cool and rainy, as it has been all week; all of our hosts apologized even though no one is complaining since they can really use the rain. Tuesday the group visited Google, HP, Nvidia, and Facebook, and Wednesday we visited the Ford research facility in Palo Alto before I peeled off to do my own thing. It is always good to see the world beyond the Baraga Plain, and to get a sense of the culture that many of our graduates will be entering.

I have come away from this trip with a few impressions to share with you.

First, deep learning is everywhere. Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots, made that point when he visited Michigan Tech last September, and it has certainly been in evidence at the companies we have visited. As a case in point, when we went to Nvidia, easily the most electronic hardware-oriented of any of the places we visited, the presentation from HR stated that 90% of their hiring is in “EE, CS, CpE, and ML/DL”, the latter being an acronym for “Machine Learning/Deep Learning” that everyone here seems to understand. Nvidia is primarily known for its graphical processing unit (GPU) hardware, but it is the advances in computing power represented by their hardware that makes today’s deep learning possible. Thus, it makes sense for them to show the connection between the two, in applications such as real-time processing for autonomous vehicles. All the big players are jockeying for position in artificial intelligence and machine learning, looking for the competitive advantage that such technologies can bring to their products and systems. This is not easy material to master, but if you can prove that you are an expert, probably at the PhD level and with several years of good experience to back it up, you can write your own ticket. This has actually created something of a crisis in academic computer science circles, as the research in artificial intelligence has become privatized and universities cannot compete on salaries.

Despite the strong economy and the high demand for computer scientists and engineers, it’s still not that easy to get a job here. Hiring managers have high standards, and you really need to know your stuff. Most interviews are pretty arduous, with multiple stages and with batteries of technical tests that one has to go through. I have heard multiple references to a book titled “Cracking the Coding Interview” by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, which is now in its 6th edition and has become a guidebook for those looking to run the Silicon Valley gauntlet. Overall I think it is good thing that the better companies are not willing to compromise on quality in this job market. Certainly it is good for us in academia who are trying to motivate students to do their best. A diploma alone isn’t going to cut it; one really has to put in the work and develop the skills and knowledge that that diploma represents.

A third impression was really just a confirmation of a bias that I have had for many years, but it really seemed to come through loud and clear. We heard in meeting after meeting that the best preparation for a career leading to technical management, leadership, or entrepreneurship, starts with a technical degree in engineering or computer science, in most cases leading to a first job that is also technical in nature. There are no shortcuts here. We saw plenty of examples where the actual subject matter of the undergraduate degree was not closely related to the work 20 years later: the Assistant Treasurer for risk and strategy at Alphabet (parent company of Google), someone who is responsible for billions of dollars in investments, holds a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Tech. Likewise the person in charge of global supply chain for HP, Inc., holds a Michigan Tech BS in Electrical Engineering. At every turn we heard that a technical background teaches one how to think analytically and quantitatively and how to solve problems, and that those skills will serve you well no matter where your career takes you. There is no rule that says that someone with an engineering education will be an engineer for the rest of his or her life, but it is absolutely a great way to start out. I have written it here before, but it bears repeating: build your house on rock, not on sand.

Finally, I learned that the companies that are really successful are the ones that think long-term and are willing to take risks. This is the key to the meteoric success of Google, Facebook, and Amazon, companies that are not thinking about next year or 5 years from now, but 100 years from now. When they see the right opportunity, they are willing to place their bets and not insist on an immediate payoff. This is not to say they are foolhardy however. Our contact at Google reinforced something I remember vividly from the book How Google Works, by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, which is that in those boardrooms, decisions are based on data. One never goes to a meeting at Google to argue for some new initiative without the data to back it up. Of course, this requires that the company have experiments going all the time to generate that data, and this is one of the reasons there are so many opportunities for Google employees to have their own little side projects. Obviously this is a very engineering approach to corporate long-term strategy, but it certainly seems to be working for them.

Taking the long view, being willing to be bold and take risks, making decisions using data and careful analysis – sounds to me like pretty good advice for a university like Michigan Tech.

– Dan

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


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Postcard from Colorado

Fuhrmann at Steamboat Resort

Even department chairs get to take a break every once in a while. Here is a photo taken on Thursday, March 8, on the slopes of Steamboat ski resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. This is my second time at this resort – the first time was last year – and I just love it.

One of the things in my personal life that I enjoy most about moving to Houghton some ten years ago is that it has rekindled in me an appreciation for outdoor winter sports. I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing at Steamboat if it weren’t for our little ski hill in Houghton, Mont Ripley, which is owned and run by Michigan Tech. It is only 450 feet vertical and has two chair lifts and a T-bar, but the lake effect snow we get is every bit as good as what you will find in the big resorts out west. What it lacks in size it makes up for in convenience. I can go over on the weekends or after work and practice my technique (which still needs a lot of work) or just have fun. I started going my second year at Tech, first with rental equipment, then buying my own inexpensive gear at a ski swap, and later getting even better equipment as the years went by and it became obvious to my family how much I was enjoying it. This year I even took lessons from ski instructor Dan Dalquist, who is terrific and helped me a lot. So, kudos to Nick Sirdenis and his whole crew over at Mont Ripley: you do a great job and help make Michigan Tech the unique place that it is. Keep up the good work!

– Dan

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


Pearce Gives Invited Talk on Cutting Lab Costs

Joshua Pearce
Joshua Pearce

Joshua Pearce (MSE/ECE) gave an invited talk on “How to Eviscerate Lab Costs: Advances in Materials, Electronics and 3-D Printing for Scientific Equipment” for the Industrial Engineering program at the University of Trento, Trento Italy, last Wednesday, (Feb. 21, 2018).

Notables

Red Hat, a $2.9 billion per year open-source software company, honored Joshua Pearce (MSE/ECE) as one of eight instructors globally who champion open source education. Read more here.


Fridays with Fuhrmann: New Online Program

renderedI am delighted and excited to announce the launch of a new venture in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech. In September 2018, the ECE Department, in partnership with the online education support company Keypath Education, will begin delivering a new set of online courses leading to the MSEE degree, with an emphasis in communications and signal processing.

Distance education is not new to the ECE Department. Over 15 years ago, ECE faculty members Bruce Mork and Leonard Bohmann recognized a workforce need in the utility power industry for advanced education in power and energy, and proceeded to create online versions of all our senior and graduate-level in that area. Graduate students with an interest in power and energy could take all the courses they needed for the MSEE degree online. The online courses were offered in tandem with our on-campus courses through lecture capture, at first in dedicated studios and more recently in self-service classrooms. Although enrollment has tailed off in the past couple of years, those courses were very well-received and the program met its objectives. I thank Bruce and Leonard for all their hard work and congratulate them on a job well done.

This new program is something quite different. The world of online education has changed considerably in the past decade, and so have the expectations of our students. In this new program, we are moving away from the lecture capture model, and will use the latest technology and pedagogical theory for distance education to create web-based products that are polished and professional and meet modern production standards. We need help doing that, and this is where Keypath comes in. They will help us create the delivery mechanism for the courses, and in addition they will help with the marketing of the program, the recruiting of new students, and the online tech support for those students once they get in the program. The content of the courses is entirely the responsibility of Michigan Tech faculty, and we will retain all the rights to that intellectual property.

Given my musical inclinations I make the analogy that our traditional methods of classroom teaching are kind of like playing in a bar band. We show up, well-prepared most of the time, and give a performance that can be polished or a little rough on occasion. The most important responsibility is to make sure we are ready on the day of the lecture, even if next week’s lectures aren’t quite ready yet. If we teach the same course year after year, we give the same performance over and over to different audiences, with the material evolving and our understanding of that material deepening over time.

Putting together an online course in today’s market is more akin to going into the recording studio and cutting an album. We need to have a vision for the complete course, from soup to nuts, and the full package needs to be ready to go on Day 1 of the semester. When you go into the studio, you bring the producer and the recording professionals in with you, and it becomes a team effort. The Keypath team will be our producers.

There will be a lot of time spent on course development and all the little pieces that go into the web-based delivery mechanisms. This is going to be new for me, so I can’t even speak with authority about all those delivery mechanisms. I understand that the 60-minute or 90-minute talking head lecture is gone, and instead we will have a series of smaller modules with plenty of opportunity for the students to engage with the material as it is presented. We will also work hard to make sure that all the courses use a common set of online tools and have the same look and feel, so that we present a unified and coherent program that does not put the student on a steep learning curve with every new course, just to learn the mechanics. There are implications for the workload model in the department, as I will have to give credit for time spent developing a new course before it is offered the first time. That is going to be new for us too.

We selected communications and signal processing as a technical sub-area within EE for this new venture, for several reasons. First, this is an area where we anticipate high workforce demand. As we move further and faster into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the era of the Internet of Things, electrical engineers need to know how to acquire digital data, process it, merge it with other data, and design systems that allow for the communication of that data over complex global networks. This need cuts across all industry sectors and all applications of electrical engineering, and is very closely related to robotics, automation, and control which I wrote about in my most recent column. Second, we think the material will lend itself well to online learning, as it is mostly theoretical with the applications either implemented or simulated with computer models. Finally, it turns out just by coincidence that the faculty members in the ECE Department with the most enthusiasm about trying these new methods of course delivery, including Tim Schulz, Mike Roggemann, Glen Archer, and myself, are all in signal processing. It just seemed to make the most sense all the way around.

I won’t go into all the details of the degree program, but I will mention one feature that comes right up front for new students. We have been finding recently a wide disparity in the skill levels in mathematical analysis and computer programming among our incoming MSEE students, and that has created problems for what the instructors can reasonably expect in our more advanced courses. That observation was made independently from the exploration of the new online program, so it was just serendipity that we started thinking about ways to address it at the same time we started the conversations with Keypath. The result is a new course, EE5300 Mathematical and Computational Methods in Engineering, that will be the entry point for the all new students. It is not communications and signal processing per se, but it will provide many of the tools in the toolkit for engineers that work in this area. More importantly, it will ensure that all of our students are on a level playing field as they enter the heart of the program. I think this new course, which still needs to be developed, is critical to the success of the new program and so we will put a lot of time and resources into making sure it is done right. It is the only course in the new program being offered in September 2018 – others will come along in January 2019 and later as the program really gets rolling.

I want to thank all those who have helped to get this venture off the ground, including the ECE Graduate Programs Committee, Dean Wayne Pennington in the College of Engineering, Provost Jackie Huntoon, and of course all of our new best friends at Keypath. I should also mention that a parallel program is being put together in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with an emphasis on structures, and the group conversations with CEE have been helpful as well. No one can say for certain where this will lead, but we are jumping in with both feet. I think it is important for the department, and it is important for Michigan Tech when one considers both our geographical location and the role that we play in economic development for Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and indeed the entire U.S. That’s why I am excited about this – it is a new and hopefully effective way of fulfilling our mission, educating the next generation of engineers and supporting them as they enter the workforce.

I guess a little marketing is in order. For anyone reading this who holds an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering or a related field, and can see value in expanding your skills in communications and signal processing, we would love to have you be a part of this. I can guarantee you all the challenges, rewards, and technical rigor of a Michigan Tech education. With all the new delivery methods on the horizon, that is the one thing that is not going to change.

For more information see Michigan Tech Partners with Keypath Education to Serve Professional Engineers

– Dan

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