The ECE Department – The Last 50 Years

By Tom Cleaver, Prof. Emeritus of Electrical Engineering

I wasn’t around when you graduated, as I came to Speed EE as a green PhD in the summer of 1970. When I got there, the department was going through a transition from your five-year, quarter-based BEE program to a five-year, semester-based MENG program. Harry Saxe was the Dean, and his plan was to make the MENG the accredited terminal degree. In my early years in the department, I participated in a plan to qualify BEE graduates, such as you, for the MENG degree.

In the fall of 1970, the faculty included Prof. Verne Baxter, Prof. Sam Bell, Dr. Kiron Bordoloi, Dr. Darrell Chenoweth, Dr. Leo Jenkins, Dr. William Pierce, Dr. Donald Scheer, and Dr. R.D. Shelton. Many of you may also remember Prof. Sam Fife and Prof. Miles Northrop, who retired shortly before I came to UofL.

Remember the shop personnel? Tom Bisch, Bill Hawkins, and Ernie Williams were always willing to help out with student projects.

We went through a lot of department heads since the 60s: William Pierce, Leo Jenkins, Don Scheer, Joe Cole, Carroll Hill, Darrell Chenoweth, Jacek Zurada, James Graham, and now Bruce Alphenaar.

The curriculum gradually changed through the years. Analog courses were replaced with digital courses. The machinery and power courses faded away. Some courses that were taught within EE or Speed were moved to A&S, such as Electromagnetic Phenomena and chemistry. Thermodynamics was dropped as a requirement (What a relief!). All ECE students are now required to take a capstone design class, in which they design, build, and document a significant project.

Administratively, there were also many changes. When the MENG program went live, the first co-op was moved to the summer following the first two semesters. Credit hours were increased. As digital technology became more important, the name of the department was changed to the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The department sought and won a PhD in Electrical Engineering. The BSEE, which became an unaccredited degree after introduction of the accredited MENG, once again became accredited under a “dual accreditation” agreement with ECPD.

Times were not always good. Many fine EE students had come from the NROTC program, but the university lost that program. When Naval Ordnance was moved to private ownership in 1996, we had to scramble to make up the lost co-op positions. Throughout the years, there were periodic budget cuts that affected our programs.

And speaking of co-op: You probably dreaded having to write those co-op reports. Well, the faculty hated grading them as much as you hated writing them. Nevertheless, co-op is still a vital part of our program.

Many students choose to work while taking classes, thanks in part to a partnership with UPS.

The demographics of the student population has also changed. In the ‘70s, we had a surge of Iranian students. The number of black and Hispanic students has increased. When you graduated, there were probably few women in your class. Now about 15% are women.

In 1970, the back of the 2nd floor was populated by giant motors and generators. You probably took a lab that included using a motor-generator set and a dynamometer. Perhaps you applied a Prony Brake to measure the torque of one of the motors. That equipment gradually disappeared over the years, to be replaced by offices and computer labs.

When you were in school, there was a giant parabolic dish antenna on the roof. This was for Dr. Scheer’s radio astronomy projects. The dish came down in the early ‘80s.

You all used slide rules. Now all our students use powerful calculators. Back in 1974, I gave a test, and a student came up to me to say he’d forgotten his calculator. I, in a moment of cruelty, handed him my slide rule.

Most of you will remember Laura Kersey who ran the Speed Library. One hot day Ms. Kersey threw one of you out for having the temerity to come into her library wearing shorts.

So the department has changed a lot over the past five decades, but one thing hasn’t changed: The electrical engineering program at Speed is still strong and still produces great engineers. Some of them may even be as good as you.