UW Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering students conduct meaningful research and important outreach.
By Micaela Myers
On the fifth floor of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, computers, robots and undergraduates are hard at work. Senior Cena Miller of Waukesha, Wis., uses an EEG headset that measures brain waves to control a robot with thoughts—pioneering research that could have medical applications in the future. Fellow senior Alexander Soveroski of Cheyenne, Wyo., has programed a Jaguar robot, a 4x4 wheeled platform, to respond to hand movements, and senior Bradley Riotto of Jackson, Wyo., is programming it to work with the HoloLens augmented reality device that shows holograms—both programs could help the robot be more useful in situations where it’s dangerous for humans, such as firefighting or bomb diffusing. Junior Reenu Paul of India is interested in bioengineering, and her research focuses on motion control, which could have applications for distance surgery in the future. Senior Dakota McCormack of Newcastle, Wyo., works with developing modules and programming small Raspberry Pi computers that are useful for teaching kids, while senior Josiah Batson of Worland, Wyo., programs Arduino microcontroller motherboards, which are open-source electronics platforms. Senior Kyle Gilman of Powell, Wyo., focuses his research on computer vision—the computer segments, classifies and identifies images from a microscope. And Senior Vivaswat Shastry of India works with parallel computing using Jetson devices, a so-called system-on-a-chip for mobile computing, and has programmed a robot for facial recognition.
All of these students are part of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and have been selected to conduct funded and mentored research through the Engineering Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, which is part of the Tier-1 Engineering Initiative. These students also conduct demonstrations for potential UW students and help with professional development for teachers from around the state. In 2016, they gave 23 group tours with 562 students and five teacher workshops involving 98 teachers.
“I think it’s a very unique opportunity for these students,” says Professor Suresh Muknahallipatna. “The outreach has impacted our enrollment. It’s giving future students a better picture of electrical and computer engineering.”
“If you have real-world experiences, it really opens up the list of things you can do,” says Associate Professor Robert Kubichek. The research and outreach help the students determine which field within electrical and computer engineering most interests them, as well as help them gain internships, graduate school admittance and eventually jobs.
“The reason why I love being part of this group is that it’s really important to me to do outreach to younger women getting interested in STEM programs,” says Miller, who already has one undergraduate degree in neuroscience and plans to pursue her engineering master’s at UW. “I wish I’d gone on the engineering path sooner. For me, what’s been amazing about UW is that as soon as I walked in the door and met my advisers, they were incredibly supportive and have been giving me so many opportunities.
To use this equipment, I don’t think you could find this everywhere.”
Batson has been working with Miller using the EEG headsets. “Ideally, I’m really interested in rehabilitation for people with paralysis and development of robotics—for example, a robotic
arm you could control with your brain,” he says.
Soveroski enjoys playing guitar and is designing a guitar amplifier for his senior design project—something he hopes to turn into a career. “You get the hands-on experience you’ll need for the job market,” he says of his undergraduate experience.
Gilman plans to pursue his Ph.D. “I’d like to work in a research laboratory like the one I worked at this summer during my internship at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio,” he says.
“It’s a great opportunity to do the outreach,” McCormack says of the scholars program. “The teaching part
I really liked—and the programming.” By teaching others, you learn the material better yourself, he says.
Shastry appreciates the opportunities and mentoring: “Having a smaller number of students and a larger number of professors definitely helps, because the student-to-professor ratio is pretty low.”
Riotto, who is staying on for his master’s degree, agrees: “A lot of the bigger universities, you’re just a number in the crowd, and here you get to know your professors well. Attending UW is definitely the best decision I’ve ever made.”