Letter from the Department Head | 2018 Annual Report | ECE | Virginia Tech


Letter from the Department Head | 2018 Annual Report

Luke Lester headshot
Luke Lester, ECE Department Head

I am pleased to report that the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Virginia Tech continues to grow in terms of the number of new students who are entering the program, the quantity of students who are graduating with ECE degrees, and the number of faculty members we are hiring.

In 2017 we greeted about 470 new sophomores into the Electrical Engineering (EE) and Computer Engineering (CPE) degree programs, which is the fourth consecutive year of enrollment at about 500 students. International students now represent 20-30 percent of our entering classes, demonstrating that our program's reputation for excellence has not just a national reach, but also a global one.

Last year 267 BS degree students in EE and CPE graduated, which is our highest since the early 2000's. The 54 Ph.D. students that graduated in academic year 2016/2017 represents our all-time high, which is a testament to the strength of our graduate program. Indeed, in terms of research expenditures, we are now ranked eighth in the country, having moved up two positions since the last NSF Higher Education Research & Development (HERD) Survey.

I am proud to tell you that US News & World Report ranks our graduate programs in the top 20 for the second consecutive year and the third time in the last five years. The electrical engineering program is ranked 18th in the country, and computer engineering is placed at 17th. I believe that this exciting news is a result of our continued efforts to get the word out through our annual reports, print publications, Google Scholar, online videos, and web-based news stories that have all raised the visibility of our faculty's high-quality efforts in research and education.

To complement our sustained and robust student enrollment, we hired seven new faculty members in 2017 who are profiled in the subsequent pages of this report. Furthermore, as I write this report, we have hired another three faculty members so far in 2018. This new cohort is having an immediate impact on our research by expanding our portfolio in new technical areas such as neuromorphic computing, distributed systems, 5G wireless, and high voltage systems.

They are also influencing the comprehensive revision and modernization of our sophomore and junior-year curriculum that is now underway as part of our five-year NSF Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) grant that we were awarded in 2016. My thanks again especially to Tom Martin who has been leading the charge on this signature effort.

The world is embracing a new type of engineer—a design thinker who is innovative, flexible, and collaborative. Our faculty is refuting the national view that electrical and computer engineering departments are just educating "toolmakers"—people who are learning their trade in silos that are merely repositories of knowledge. Nowadays, the reality is that ECE encompasses many exciting technical disciplines.

Our new ECE curriculum will reflect this truth by emphasizing design and innovation, disciplinary depth, and a range of learning experiences. We are in the process of re-invigorating our undergraduate courses to provide multiple paths through the curriculum that give students the freedom to choose a variety of concentrations—from biomedical applications to digital arts.

Please consider supporting our efforts with a financial gift to the ECE department. Your donation will not only help expand students' academic experiences and disciplinary skills, but also allow us to broaden the kinds of students entering the program and the range of careers they pursue.

Thank you and go Hokies!

Luke Lester
Department Head