ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
ECE News

Letter from the Department Head

I continue to be honored and humbled to serve as department head of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. I am still amazed by the accomplishments, creativity and dedication of our students, staff and faculty. And, I remain energized by the loyalty of our alumni, the support of our corporate and other friends, and the enthusiasm of the many employers that want to hire Virginia Tech ECE graduates. Although this annual report includes only a small sample of the many exciting activities in ECE over the past year, I hope that it conveys to you at least some of the quality, impact, innovation and, especially, potential of our ECE Department that I have the good fortune to experience every day.

When I interviewed for the position of department head in February 2009, I put forward five principles that I would use, and have used, to guide me in this position. These are to: (1) strive for quality; (2) maximize impact; (3) be innovative; (4) look outward; and (5) ensure integrity. The fourth principle, to look outward, may seem of lesser importance. Indeed, with wonderful colleagues around campus, outstanding ECE laboratory facilities and the surrounding beauty of Hokie stone buildings, the Duck Pond, and the Blue Ridge Mountains, looking “inward” is easy and rather satisfying. However, we must look outward for new ideas and to set benchmarks in our quest for even higher quality. We must collaborate with others, go beyond campus to conduct research, and cultivate our research and educational programs beyond Blacksburg to maximize our impact. And, the more that we look outward, the more that others will look at us, which will further enhance our reputation and attract the best students and faculty to consider joining Virginia Tech. It is also the new reality for higher education that we must also look outwardly for a larger part of the financial support needed to provide a first-class ECE education and enable cutting-edge research.

This year’s report features ways in which some of our faculty members are looking outward — from space science research in the extremes of Antarctica, to facilitating citizen science in response to environmental disaster in the Gulf Coast, and beyond. There are many other examples of ECE faculty and students being deeply engaged beyond campus that are described only briefly or not at all in this report. The ECE faculty members and students based in the National Capital Region and at the National Institute of Aerospace near NASA Langley Research Center are tangible evidence of our engagement beyond the confines of campus. We also teach courses, in person or via distance learning, to students across the Commonwealth of Virginia, in Egypt, and elsewhere in the nation and the world. Many ECE faculty members are key leaders in international technical societies, journals and conferences, including Dushan Boroyevich, the President of the IEEE Power Electronics Society. These are all examples of how ECE is making a difference around the world, and how we are bringing those experiences back to Virginia Tech to improve and expand all that we do.

Beyond campus and on campus, much has happened within ECE during the past year. I would like to highlight a few particularly important milestones. University Distinguished Professor Fred Lee was one of 68 new members elected to the National Academy of Engineering. As described on page 26, this is a significant and well deserved honor, and a call to service, for Fred. Virginia Tech is particularly proud of Fred as he is truly a “homegrown” NAE member. Joseph Tront has been named the W. S. “Pete” White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education. This two-year rotating chair was established by American Electric Power to honor Pete White, a 1948 electrical engineering graduate of Virginia Tech. Joe is being recognized for his long-term and continuing contributions to the use of technology in the classroom. Joseph Baker was named the Steven O. Lane Junior Faculty Fellow. This fellowship was established in memory of the late Steven O. Lane, a 1978 electrical engineering graduate of Virginia Tech, and recognizes a junior faculty member for teaching and research excellence in electromagnetics and antennas. Masoud Agah and Allen MacKenzie were granted tenure and promoted to the rank of associate professor and Bob Clauer was granted tenure at the rank of professor.

We welcome two new members to our faculty, Jules White and Dennis Sweeney. Jules’s expertise is in the area of cyber-physical systems, which are systems with closely linked computational and physical aspects. Dennis is ECE’s new Director of Instructional Laboratories and is responsible for facilitating innovation in and ensuring the efficient operation of our teaching laboratories.

I also note the passing of Ira Jacobs on August 11, 2010. Ira was truly a gentleman and a scholar. His wisdom, service and unwavering optimism are greatly missed.

In closing, I wish to thank our many friends and supporters, both on campus and beyond. The support of the Bradley Foundation, industry partners, research sponsors, alumni and other friends is particularly important as we strive to further improve our education and research programs. I especially want to thank the members of the ECE Advisory Board and the members of advisory boards for our research centers and groups for their wise counsel and support. I am personally grateful for the dedicated service of Gino Manzo, past ECE Advisory Board chair, and Mike Hurley, our current chair. On campus, Dean Richard Benson and the rest of the College of Engineering team continue to be of great assistance to me and others in ECE. Most importantly, I greatly appreciate the faculty, staff and students who are the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Scott Midkiff
Department Head