And Virtual Laboratories
Designing actual prototype hardware is advantageous to the education of an engineer," according to William Tranter, who joined the Department in 1997 as the Bradley Professor of Communications.
"One of the things that attracted me to Virginia Tech is that many of the research projects actually have as a goal the design of prototype hardware," he continued. "That's good experience for students. It's what many of them will be doing when they leave here."
Tranter came to Tech after 26 years at the University of Missouri-Rolla. At UMR, he served in several administrative posts, including associate dean of engineering for graduate affairs and research. Between 1985 and 1996, he served as UMR's Schlumberger Professor of Electrical Engineering. Prior to coming to Tech, he served as an Erskine Fellow at Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A prolific textbook author and winner of numerous teaching awards, he has strong opinions about engineering education. He believes that education should provide a sound theoretical foundation while engaging students in real-world design and analysis.
He has incorporated this philosophy into his teaching and throughout the textbooks he has published. Two of his textbooks, Principles of Communications and Signals and Systems: Continuous and Discrete, have become the classic standards at many universities. The fourth edition of Signals and Systems was recently published, and Principles of Communications has been translated into Spanish, Korean, and Chinese. He is under contract for several other books, two of which are a direct result of the NSF-sponsored wireless curriculum development effort at the depart-ment's Mobile & Portable Radio Research Group (MPRG).
Since coming to Tech, Tranter has chaired the steering committee responsible for developing the university's graduate program in information technology (GPIT), which is a masters/certificate program. A joint effort between the colleges of engineering, business, and arts and sciences, the program is one of the first of its kind to address the rapid convergence of computing, communications, networking, and the business aspects of information technology.
The program offers several different modules in networking, communications, computer engineering, software development, decision support systems, and business information systems. Completion of any module leads to a certificate and completion of any three modules, along with appropriate foundation work, leads to a master's degree.
"We believe this program will address the needs of industry," Tranter said. "It is currently offered in Northern Virginia, but our goal is to offer it throughout the commonwealth. The ultimate goal is to rely on the Internet and other appropriate technology to make the program available to students any time, any place."
In addition to program development, Tranter is interested in developing courses in communications and signal processing. "I'm interested in developing courses that make use of modern computational design and analysis methods, such as stochastic simulation," he said.
"Where appropriate, I want my courses to include virtual laboratories - so that students can use these methodologies to design and analyze realistic communications systems." He described a virtual laboratory as a computational environment allowing students to accurately design systems using a library of simulation models.
Tranter's research experience is as diverse as his teaching credentials. He is an expert in communications signal processing and has a strong reputation in stochastic simulation and computer-aided design of communication systems. He is a Fellow of the IEEE, is currently serving on the board of governors of the IEEE communications society, and serves as publications director.
"One of my personal research goals is to develop hardware-based simulation engines that allow accurate modeling and simulation of very complex communication systems in a reasonable amount of time," Tranter said. "These are basically special purpose computers that would allow for rapid design and prototyping of next generation communication systems."
He is currently working on a number of projects in wireless and mobile communications. One project he is working on with a number of other department faculty members is the wireless global mobile effort funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The project involves developing programmable radios based on configurable computers. Another recent project was a study of alternative deployment strategies for Virginia's public safety radio network.
He particularly enjoys collaborative efforts. "Virginia Tech ECpE faculty members team together to develop large projects," he commented. "That is another aspect that attracted me to Tech. The faculty's collaboration and energy is building the research reputation of the university. Because of this, Virginia Tech is attracting the kind of students and faculty that it takes to build a substantial program that will have a great impact on the engineering world."