Students, faculty, and staff gathered in Hewlett auditorium to try their luck at winning one of two $100 gift cards, and of course to hear the presentations and participate in the Q and A session of the 2015 State of the Department event. More than 70 questions were submitted in advance, with others being asked during the event.
An enthusiastic welcome from EE Student Life (EESL) Committee Chair, Professor Andrea Goldsmith, opened the event and also provided an overview of EESL, whose main objective is to initiate and support student activities outside of the classroom and research lab. In addition to the State of the Department event, EESL facilitates and/or co-sponsors numerous activities throughout the year. The activities are highly valued by the students because they provide an opportunity for students to learn about others' experiences and perspectives, and help them navigate a successful path through Stanford and beyond. Says Goldsmith, "EESL was formed to enhance student life, create a strong sense of community within EE, and serve as a conduit for student feedback, input, and new ideas. Our goal is to improve the Stanford experience for every EE student."
Graduating senior and Fuse President, Mersina Simanski (BS '15) represented the EE undergraduate group, Fuse. Having completed its inaugural year, Fuse attracted more than 65 members and hosted many undergraduate events throughout the year. The most popular being the TI Make-a-Thon, the alumni dinner, the faculty mixer, and volleyball games on the Packard lawn. Incoming Fuse president, Iliana Bray (B.S. '17) plans to continue growing Fuse and hosting engaging events for EE undergrads.
GSEE, the graduate student body of the Electrical Engineering department, highlighted their involvement with various EE events throughout the year. Of note, are the popular social HappEE hours, EEPROM, and faculty lunches. The current president, Ziad Shehadeh (MS '15) will pass the role to Kevin Schubert (PhD, '17). Ziad states "Despite the major time commitment involved, it has been a privilege leading this organization in the 2014-2015 academic year. I got heavily involved with EE students from all over the world, interacted with the EE department as a whole, and built several connections with faculty, industry, and other departments and student groups on campus. We tried to target the needs of the EE graduate students and hopefully with a larger leadership team in the future, even more of those needs can be addressed."
EE Department Chair, Professor Abbas El Gamal, provided an update on the department. As the largest department within the School of Engineering, it is home to 58 faculty and nearly 1,000 students. EE welcomes three faculty in 2014 and 2015: John Duchi, Tom Soh, and Gordon Wetzstein.
The EE Department also announced the SystemX Alliance — an industry affiliate program, previously known as CIS. El Gamal reported, "SystemX essentially returns CIS to its' original mission with a 21st century focus: system scaling." SystemX is a multidisciplinary collaboration across 10 departments, with focus areas in energy, bio, quantum, IoE, and others. For EE students, SystemX provides a wealth of research opportunity and faculty collaboration.
The Q and A session, facilitated by Professor El Gamal also stimulated dialogue between students and faculty regarding several important issues. A few of them included:
Q: What change or new initiative in the EE department were you most proud of this year?
A: I think I am most proud of the efforts that our faculty have been putting into developing new undergraduate classes and revamping other classes. Although we started this initiative last year, the big effort started this year and will be continuing over the next years. I think the results are very promising. Another initiative we started this year is to improve graduate admissions. We have many more faculty involved in reviewing applicant folders, and the faculty conducted Skype interviews with the final candidates, which I think worked quite well.
Q: Why do we need to take so many classes in our PhD program?
A: Stanford's EE PhD program is designed to provide students with a strong foundation that will serve them throughout their career. Engineering is a very rapidly changing field and PhD research is by definition very narrow and deep. Courses, if selected correctly, will help broaden students' background and prepare them for moving into new areas in the future.
Or, as one faculty member playfully stated, "Because we said so, It's good for you, and one day you'll thank us," to which the room erupted with laughter.
Q: How is the department helping attract more undergraduate women to the major, especially freshmen who may not even take EE courses their freshman year?
A: EE works very hard to attract the best undergraduates in general. Our revamped undergraduate curriculum helps expose students to the amazing array of application that electrical engineering provides. We hope that students — especially female students — can see themselves being successful in EE. We're continuing to challenge ourselves to teach in new ways, and we want students who learn in new ways.
Student organizations like Fuse, WEE (Women in Electrical Engineering), and GSEE exist to be inclusive. They all do a great job of providing activities that are accessible to every student. Specifically, WEE has a mentoring pair program, and the leadership of Fuse is female. Each student group has it's own focus, and all are outstanding student communities — especially because of the female members.
Another submitted question, was the oft wondered, "Why is Bob Dutton so cool?" Professor El Gamal responded, "The reason Bob is so cool is because he is one of the most passionate and focused people I've ever worked with. When he takes on a mission, he goes all the way. He has done this in his research and is now doing it for the undergrads."
Following the Q and A session, the winning ticket was drawn for the gift cards — Congratulations to Neal Master (PhD candidate), and Atinuke Ademola-Idowu (MS '15) .
The State of the Department event concluded with dinner and drinks, hosted by the EESL Committee and GSEE on the Hewlett/Packard entrance patio.
Consider joining us at the 2015 EE Commencement Ceremony, Sunday, June 14th on the Medical School Dean's Lawn, where you'll hear more about the EE student experience.