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Special Report
University Entrepreneurship

 March 2000

 

 

From the Department Head...

Computer and electrical engineering are hot. As the two fields provide much of the technology underlying our booming economy, it sometimes seems that anything associated with CPE or EE is in demand.

Here at Virginia Tech, our students are in demand. Our BSEEs and BSCpEs are earning record salaries when they graduate. Our master's and doctoral students are often recruited and leave for the dot coms and the big corporations even before completing their degrees.

Our educational programs are in demand. Our undergraduate and graduate degrees have increased 40 percent over the past four years, and now represent 28 percent of the total degrees awarded by the College of Engineering.

Our research expertise is also in demand. Total research expenditures in the department are approaching $20 million. Sponsored research alone has grown 47 percent in the past four years, and the ECE department now generates 36 percent of the colleges outside funding.

Although this growing demand reflects widespread approval of our excellent programs, it creates significant stress on our faculty and facilities. We are bursting at the seams and are asking the college for a reallocation of space based on our teaching and research activity.

We currently have five open faculty positions for which we are aggressively recruiting. However, like other ECE departments nationwide, we are having difficulty recruiting new faculty. Industry's lure of equity, high salaries, and technical facilities offer tough competition for universities.

As a result, our faculty members are straining once again under some of the highest teaching loads in the college. I particularly commend the computer engineering faculty who are meeting the challenge of teaching almost triple the number of students as four years ago with less than sufficient resources.

Meeting the Challenges of Change

The computer and electrical engineering fields are changing as quickly as they are growing, and we are responding to those changes with new or expanded programs to provide the best opportunities for our students.

For example, to meet the calls for advanced knowledge and training throughout the state, we have spearheaded Tech's Master in Information Technology degree, which is part of an innovative Graduate Program in Information Technology (GPIT). This program allows students to take courses in six different subject area modules, which ultimately leads to a master's degree or certification in a specific area of study. The efforts of Bill Tranter and his interdisciplinary steering committee have set the program on a strong foundation. Demand for the program far exceeds the resources available, and we have capped enrollment at 170 students.

In Northern Virginia, Saifur Rahman has been growing the one-year-old Alexandria Research Institute (ARI), which now hosts 10 faculty members and 11 graduate students and visiting researchers. The ARI faculty collaborate across disciplines in research, education, and outreach, bringing Virginia Tech technology and expertise to Northern Virginia and to international venues.

ARI's reputation and capabilities are growing quickly. The ARI is the home of the new World Institute for Disaster Risk Management, which is a joint venture between Virginia Tech and the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology. In addition, Scott Midkiff received approval for funding for a $2.5 million effort to help educate graduate students in computer networks at ARI and on the Blacksburg campus.

On campus, we are restructuring and expanding our microelectronics education and research capabilities to broaden student understanding and faculty expertise in emerging areas of this field. Bob Hendricks is taking the lead as we develop new curricula, create new, interdisciplinary laboratories for teaching and research, and hire additional faculty specialists in microelectronics.

A major educational effort of the past few years has been our Virtual Corporation program, captained by Krishnan Ramu. Students in the program work in an engineering-company structure to gain hands-on project experience in a real-world setting. We believe the technology developed by this program has the potential to solve some major transportation issues in Virginia and nationwide. Although it was not an original goal of the program, we now believe the technology has great commercial value and are working to spin it off (see Virtual Corporation Paving Way to MagLev Venture)

Technological Innovations

The department's research laboratories have made several significant advances this year, including a technology to transfer power in Pentium II chips, which allows the chip to operate at their designed speeds. This technology, from the Center for Power Electronics Systems (CPES), directed by Fred Lee, has already provided a tremendous boon to the industry.

In wireless communications, the Center for Wireless Telecommunications, directed by Charles Bostian, deployed the world's first rural TDD network using the LMDS spectrum that Virginia Tech purchased last year.

This year, Tech established the new Optical Sciences and Engineering Research (OSER) Center to explore and develop optical applications in biological research. Rick Claus, director of the new center, brings his optics expertise and successful track record of the Fiber & Electro-Optics Research Center (FEORC).

Distinguished Professors

In addition to major new initiatives and successful ventures, our department was honored this year when two of our faculty members were named University Distinguished Professors. Fred Lee and Arun Phadke received this highest honor that the university can bestow on a faculty member.

Our continued growth, advances, and prestige result entirely from the hard work and dedication of our world-class faculty. I thank all my colleagues in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering for another year well done.

 

Leonard A. Ferrari
Department Head
The Bradley Department
of Electrical and Computer Engineering

 

The Bradley Department

of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Virginia Tech


Last Updated, March 30, 2000
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