Paul Wheeler  : Advising Excellence Award

It is a pleasure to award Dr. Paul Wheeler the Advising Excellence Award for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (ECE). Dr. Wheeler has become an advising “fixture” in the department, providing countless students with insight into their course of study, their professions,
and their life. He has also active as a sage advisor to the department as a whole, and to the various faculty members within it. Dr. Wheeler has been the active, beating heart of the department for years. 

Here is a summary of some of his advising efforts. For the last five years, he has been responsible for advising 108 Masters of Engineering students, discussing with them their course of study, approving programs of study, etc. He is the advisor to and principal architect of the ME/ MBA program. Over the course of his career, he has been the advisor on 23 Masters of Science students. In his role as advisor and participant in the Engineers without Borders program, he has taken two trips to Uganda (2007, 2009), where he has helped establish local water and power delivery capability to a school there. He has served for many years (1993-2004) as a faculty instructor for engineering state. In fact, Paul’s efforts helped launch Engineering State, which has become one of our hallmark high school outreach and recruiting programs. He has served as an Honors Program coordinator (on the USU Honors Advisory Board), and initiated the Honor’s program in the ECE Department (1989-1999). In the department, he has been the IEEE Student Chapter advisor for three years.

He established the Davis Branch Campus program of the ECE Department. He has worked with students working for the Center for Persons with Disabilities (CPD) in designing and building assistive technologies.

Dr. Wheeler has made numerous visits to public schools in the area to recruit and advise students about engineering as a career. In his role as chair of the Curriculum Committee (for at least ten years), he has worked tirelessly to ensure that pre-requisite sequences in the classes we teach (and other departments around campus) fit seamlessly together. He has devised flow chart diagrams for both of the majors in the department, and for each of the technical areas of specialty in the department, which have been of inestimable aid to students and to the department for planning purposes. In addition to all of these things, and above all, his door is always open for advice, counsel, and comfort. More than any other faculty member in the department, Dr. Wheeler truly assumes the role of advisor. Whether a student has him in a class or not, it is understood that they can go to him for advice.

Wei Ren : Research Excellence Award

Dr. Wei Ren has received the Research Excellence Award for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. Dr. Wren is a remarkably productive researcher who is literally defining his technical field through the breadth, depth, and volume of his research contributions. He is also an effective teacher who understands well the mutual reinforcement of good teaching and good research.

Dr. Ren’s research is in the area of multi-agent controls: how to get multiple interacting systems to produce useful and stable results, with a minimum of communications between the agents. In the laboratory, he targets his research on small mobile robots. An analogy to what he is doing is teaching each robot to balance the broom of another robot while the group of robots dances a square dance in a windstorm, while sharing only position information between the robots.

In his research, Wei has been developing the foundational mathematical tools to describe these multi-agent systems and prove theorems regarding the stability of his control algorithms. He has so far produced two research
monographs, 31 journal articles since 2008 (with 14 more submitted),l and over 30 peer-reviewed archived conference publications. His NSF-supported research (3 recent grants totaling almost $1M) keeps an active team of student research busy.

In addition to his research prowess, Wei is a committed and dedicated teacher. He demonstrates a real understanding of the mutual reinforcement of teaching and research.

Reyhan Baktur : Teaching Excellence Award

Dr. Reyhan Baktur has been selected for the “Teaching Excellence Award” in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. Dr. Baktur’s area of teaching and research are in electromagnetics (EM). This is a difficult area, requiring the most mathematical preparation of any of the classes in our department, and dealing with abstractions which many students find difficult to visualize (let alone compute). She has done an outstanding job of making this material “real” by adding laboratory experiences in which students can see and measure the implications of the theories that unfold in class. She has also introduced a strong antennas program to our curriculum, and has worked hard to equip it with the latest state-of-the-art equipment. She has refurbished our EM anechoic chamber with new absorbing surfaces (instead of the old materials which were literally second-hand). She has established effective and sustainable lab practices through the introduction of lab tutorials which instruct students on the proper operation and maintenance of delicate equipment. She has also introduced a new graduate-level course in computational EM, which incorporates the latest computational techniques. Her teaching at the core undergraduate level serves to draw students into a vibrant graduate program in electromagnetics. She is an example of how research and teaching complement each other. For example, her research in transparent antennas for small satellites influences, and is influenced by, her antennas course. Students graduating under her direction have enjoyed 100% placement in industry.

Niel Holt : Distinguished Alumnus

The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Utah State University is proud to recognize Niel Holt as the Outstanding Alumnus for 2011. Niel was appointed the Director of Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) in November 2009. He has been at SDL since 1989, where for many years he was the Director of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division. While there, he did ground-breaking work in the image compression and airborne reconnaissance, turning data compression algorithms into real-time information systems for the military. While he is now heavily involved in administrative and programmatic duties, he is a consummate engineer who still enjoys getting his hands on hardware and making it work. 

Niel received a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from USU, with a minor in Computer Science. While here, he
worked in the data compression research group under the direction of Dr. Richard Harris, and successfully built on
concepts emerging from that group into programs at SDL. Niel also has an MBA from USU.

L-3 Communications : Distinguished Service

L3 Communications has been selected by the faculty of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department for the Outstanding Service Award for 2011. For many years, there has been a productive relationship between USU and L3, with L3 hiring from among our best students for both internships and permanent hires, and with technical discussions and interchanges, including serving on graduate committees for L3 employees. Recently these discussions have turned to joint research ventures, as L3 has teamed with USU on various research projects. L3 is actively involved in the Cadet program to develop miniature transceivers for cubesats in the DICE program. In this project, L3 has reworked their design to fit the very small form factor required (the satellite cubes measure 10 cm on a side). L3 has invested in the construction of a ground station for the DICE program. In addition, L3 has committed personnel and matching funds to team with USU on a proposal to NASA under the EPSCoR program. We are sensitive to the competition that students face in the job market, and we aim to produce students who are strongly qualified. Knowing that our students will compete for jobs at companies such as L3 motivates improvements in the classes we offer, and knowing of potential employment at strong companies such as L3 motivates our students to dig in to what we teach.

USU is also served by Mike Snow who has served for years on the USU Industry Advisory Committee (IAC), and who is the chairman of the IAC this year.

We are pleased to have this strong relationship with L3, and look forward to productive interactions in the future.

BJ Randall : Outstanding Senior

BJ Randall has been selected by the faculty and staff of the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department as the outstanding senior for 2011. BJ is a Computer Engineering major and really excels in this area. Depending on his school work load, he works about 20-50 hours a week as a software consultant. He writes software that automates complex websites. He has been asked to write mobile phone software and is currently starting a contract that will require Window/Linux software. BJ does not limit himself when it comes to his academic skills and knowledge in computer engineering. He can engineer any software and can do it in a short amount of time. For his senior project he made a 30 first-person shooter game that was playable by up to 18 players across three different platforms: PC, Mac, and iPhone. He is involved with many different software companies and is starting a couple of his own. Some of these are combined with graphic artists or local business owners. In his spare time BJ enjoys making games (programming games) and he is currently selling some on the iPhone App Store.

BJ is always willing to help out other engineering students and answer any questions they might have. He participates in any service opportunity that he can find and is not picky about what he will be doing. He is married to Nancy and has an 8 month old daughter names Star. His parents are Chris and Jill Randall of Hyde Park. His GPA is 4.0.

Cameron Weston : Outstanding Pre-Professional Student

Cameron Weston has been selected as our outstanding pre-professional student. In addition to keeping up with his school work, Cameron has been involved in a variety of service activities, such as organizing collection of donations for the earthquake in Abruzco, teaching ESL classes, and earthquake-proofing homes by strapping down water heaters. He enjoys lots of sports, and observes that his winters are reserved for snowboarding. He is in the USU Honors program.

Brittin Bennett : Outstanding Junior

Brittin Bennett has been selected as the outstanding Junior for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department for 2011. Brittin currently serves as the IEEE Vice President. He has also worked on behalf of CAPSA. He enjoys four-wheeling, philosophy, photography, and ultimate Frisbee. He also participates in the weekly mathematics research club. He is employed as a research assistant for the Soil Physics lab on campus. His motto is “Genius is initiative on fire.”

Yiding Han : Outstanding Graduate RA

Mr. Yiding Han was selected as the outstanding graduate research assistant in Electrical and Computer Engineering Department for 2011. Yiding has made remarkable contribution in computer engineering research in 2010. He took upon a challenging project in optimizing simulated annealing on high throughput architectures such as Graphics Processor Units (GPUs). Within a short time frame, Yiding was instrumental in designing new algorithms and techniques to allow parallel simulated annealing execution. These methods were then applied to an important VLSI CAD task: integrated circuit floorplanning. His work has led to multiple peer reviewed IEEE archived conference papers, and one ACM journal article. Following are full citations to his work.

A GPU Algorithm for IC Floorplanning: Specification, Analysis and Optimization, Yiding Han, Koushik Chakraborty, Sanghamitra Roy and Vilasita Kuntamukkala, 24th IEEE/ACM International VLSI Design Conference, 2011. (Acceptance Rate: 20%).

Optimizing Simulated Annealing on GPU: A Case Study with IC Floorplanning, Yiding Han, Sanghamitra Roy and Koushik Chakraborty, 12th IEEE International Symposium on Quality Electronic Design (ISQED), March 2011 (to appear).

Design and Implementation of a Throughput Optimized GPU Floorplanning Algorithm, Yiding Han, Koushik Chakraborty, Sanghamitra Roy and Vilasita Kuntamukkala, ACM Transactions on Design Automation of Electronic Systems (Accepted to appear in 2011).

                                       Scott Marchant : Outstanding Undergraduate RA

It is a pleasure to announce that Scott Marchant has been selected as the Undergraduate research Assistant of the Year for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department for 2011.

Scott Marchant began working for Dr. Wei Ren in the COVEN (Coordinated Vehicle Network)  Laboratory, an NSF CAREER-award supported robotics laboratory in February of 2010. His first research milestone was to achieve control of a multi-agent iRobot Create system. This marked the beginning of his efforts in realizing control of a multi-agent heterogeneous system. He then explored the AmigoBot platform from Mobile Robots Inc. One of the greatest difficulties in achieving heterogeneous control with AmigoBots and iRobots was the inaccuracies introduced by the iRobot encoders, which are nearly 300 times less accurate than the AmigoBot encoders. By May he developed a semi-autonomous system for obtaining a non-linear calibration to improve the iRobot angular encoder readings. By the end of the July, Scott met marginal success in realizing heterogeneous control of a system with five iRobots, five AmigoBots, and two P3-DX’s. This was achieved using PID control with encoder feedback. At this point, Scott  determined a pseudo-GPS system was necessary to improve accuracy. With the assistance of a graduate student, Scott was able to develop a pGPS system by the end of the summer consisting of an overhead camera and pattern recognition. He was also involved in preparing a presentation for an Admiral of the Navy. He worked with a graduate student to prepare a reliable presentation for the event. During preparation for this demonstration, it grew apparent that a Linux version of the system would be advantageous. Scott focused the rest of the semester on porting the system from Windows to Linux, and met with marginal success controlling each type of robot individually by the end of the semester.

In short, in a year’s time Scott has successfully made it possible to inter-operate two very distinct kinds of mobile
robots, developing thereby a critical lab infrastructure.

Scott Marchant is a senior in Electrical Engineering. He was recognized as the Outstanding Junior for the ECE
Department in 2010. In addition to his outstanding engineering capabilities, he has other broad and deep interests. He has already completed a minor in Russian (and works on the side as a Russian translator), and is nearing completion of two additional minors in computer science and math. He runs his own company, Scybot technologies, where he writes iPhone and iPod apps. He also is employed for another company developing integrated cell, GPS and webserver systems for distributed field measurements. He helps tutor students in math and computer science. He is a strong and capable student, holding on to an enviable GPA even with all of his outside interests. As he says, having grown up on a farm, he gets satisfaction from working hard --- and it shows.

Scott Marchant is an excellent example of dedication and creativity that makes a great researcher.