ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
ECE News

Letter from the Department Head

Paul Plassmann in his office

Paul Plassmann
Department Head

For the past half-year it has been a tremendous privilege for me to serve as the interim department head of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). As you read the articles in this year’s report, I think that you will agree with me that the scope of ECE’s research and educational activities is truly remarkable. From work being done at Wireless@VT to “unwire” the hospital of the future, to the rapidly expanding research being done at the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology (the Hume Center) to address national security challenges, the articles in this report give a window into the cutting edge research being done in ECE. I sincerely believe that one of the department’s greatest strengths is our ability to meet new technological challenges head-on with expertise, imagination, and hard work.

On the educational front, this year’s report describes initiatives in our cumulative undergraduate design experience, or “capstone” courses, and shows their central place in the ECE undergraduate curriculum. In addition, the report gives examples of undergraduate and graduate research opportunities such as the DARPA spectrum and robotics challenges, the VMEC summer microelectronics program, and Virginia Tech’s hybrid electric vehicle team. These opportunities, among many others available in department, offer today’s ECE graduates an extremely rich and timely educational experience that uniquely benefits them as they enter today’s workforce, or as they continue with their graduate education.

I would like bring to your attention the contributions of a number of individuals in the service of the department. First and foremost, I would like to thank Scott Midkiff for his strong leadership of the department over the past three years. In spite of the limited resources available, under Scott’s leadership, ECE made significant strides in a number of educational and research initiatives. In particular, I think the establishment and recent success of the Hume Center and the realization of the Space@VT building are two stellar examples of Scott’s leadership. I would also like to extend a special thanks to Scott Bailey and Kathy Atkins, in partnership with Joe Meredith and the Corporate Research Center, for their tireless work to make the new Space@VT building a reality. In addition, I would like to recognize several members of the ECE Advisory Board whose terms have ended this year, including Roger Gambrel, Michael Keeton, Gino Manzo, Dave Marsell, Mike Newkirk, Dan Sable, Eric Starkloff, and Tim Winter. I sincerely thank these individuals for their service to the department. Finally, I would like to acknowledge three distinguished ECE faculty members that are retiring this year: Gary Brown, Bill Davis, and Tim Pratt. Each of these professors has been a fantastic departmental resource and strong contributor to the ECE research and teaching programs. I am sure that you will join with me in wishing them, and their families, the very best in their retirement.

On a personal note, one of the most rewarding aspects of being interim head has been the opportunity to meet alumni when they stop by to visit the department to catch up on news. They often tell of the difference their ECE education has made to their careers. They ask about a particular faculty member who inspired them to pursue a technical area that has ultimately become their career and their passion. Several times I have walked up and down the Whittemore stairwell with alumni looking for a younger version of themselves on the composite for the year they graduated. There are also the alumni who return to campus with their son or daughter who has just been accepted to Virginia Tech. It is a pleasure to witness their genuine excitement at the prospect of pursuing a degree in ECE and, ultimately, adding their photo to a graduation composite four years hence.

When you visit the department office, please stop by to see the photos on the wall of the Dynamo Laboratory in the former Preston Olin Building (1897), the students in the Electrical Engineering Laboratory (1921), or some of the other historical photos of the department. When I see these photos, I remind myself that these are the people who worked to build the department’s foundation and establish its legacy. As you read this year’s report, learn about our faculty and their research, and are introduced to our Bradley and Webber fellows and scholars, imagine the great places the department and its graduates will go over the next decade — much less the next hundred years. As William Blake wrote, “what is now proved was once only imagined,” so I can only wonder what our students and faculty will imagine and then prove in the coming decades. Whatever it is, I am certain that these future contributions will take our breath away.

Paul E. Plassmann
Professor and Interim Department Head