EE Department on the Rise

The Department of Electrical Engineering is helping UB become a premier public research university. 

Campus News

Electrical engineering: Department on the rise

Stella Batalama, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering, says electrical engineering is part of our daily lives, underpinning the technology fround in everything from smartphones to health care. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CORY NEALON

Published November 10, 2016

“You just pick a discipline, from agriculture to medicine, bring electrical engineering into the picture and you make it high-tech.”
Stella Batalama, professor and chair
Department of Electrical Engineering

Pop quiz: UB electrical engineers are:

  1. Networking the oceans and making wireless 10 times faster.
  2. Developing cutting-edge disease diagnostic tools that are portable and affordable.
  3. Shrinking electronic devices to the nanoscale.
  4. Using machine learning to extract reliable information from unreliable data.
  5. All of the above.

The answer, of course, is all of the above.

The range and potential impact of these endeavors explains how the department during the past five years has more than doubled its research expenditures, boosted enrollment, reformed its curriculum and built new laboratories. It also helps illustrate how the department jumped 20 spots — from No. 77 to No. 57 (out of 189 programs) — in last spring’s U.S. News & World Report graduate school rankings.

More importantly, though, the work shows how electrical engineering is helping UB become a premier public research university.

“The past few years have been especially fruitful for us. We’re starting to see results from the path the department charted, which is based upon integrated research, strategic partnerships and educational community outreach,” says Stella Batalama, professor and department chair.

“We are empowering individual faculty members and students, and promoting collaboration within and across departmental borders through targeted investments and initiatives. As a result, faculty and students are inspired to do their absolute best. In the end, the department is as successful as its individual members. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

Based on the second floor of Davis Hall, the department has been developing four areas of research that overlap each other like a Venn diagram. These areas are electronics; optics and photonics; signals, communications and networking; and energy systems.

Faculty and student research activity in these areas has led to technological innovations in UB’s core strategic directions, including health and medicine, informatics, smart technologies, advanced manufacturing and nanotechnology, and energy and the environment.

“Our uniquely collaborative environment and the outstanding scholarship of our faculty is our competitive advantage, allowing us to bridge expertise and work at the nexus of traditionally siloed research areas. For this reason, we are able to offer a unique training experience to our students,” Batalama says.

The department’s efforts are bearing fruit. Research expenditures have more than doubled, from an average of $2.7 million annually from 2005-09 to an average of $5.9 million annually from 2010-15. Today, the department’s total amount of active grants exceeds $21 million.

Meanwhile, student enrollment is up, from roughly 500 students in 2009 to nearly 800 last academic year. And the number of students receiving electrical engineering degrees has doubled, from 134 in 2009 to nearly 267 last spring.

Batalama attributes the enrollment increase to the department’s research focus and contributions in areas of research that have broad impact on society, as well as the pervasiveness of electrical engineering.

“It’s a daily part of our lives, underpinning the technology found in everything from smartphones to driverless automobiles, health care, security, and the Internet of Things,” Batalama says. “You just pick a discipline, from agriculture to medicine, bring electrical engineering into the picture and you make it high-tech.”

Additionally, the department has created rewards and opportunities for students, such as fellowships for studying abroad and for undergraduate research.

“All these student-centric departmental initiatives, complemented by UB scholarships, contribute to our students’ competitiveness and place them among the elite group of college graduates in the job market,” Batalama says.

For example, students have won National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships, a Goldwater scholarship and IEEE Power and Energy Society scholarships. Other students secured high-paying jobs at Boeing, Intel Corp., NASA, National Grid, Google and other industry.

“At the same time, we try to engage the future generation of electrical engineers by teaming up and creating a presence for our discipline in middle school curricula in the greater Buffalo area, as well as in special programs like the UB Gifted Math Program —and this is really fun,” Batalama says.

Published November 11, 2016