Change is Continual

The Electrical Engineering Technology program was born in 1964 after sustained and sometimes rancorous debate in departmental faculty meetings. Initially a two year Associate degree program in Electrical Engineering was established under the supervision of Professor Crosby. Following the establishment of the School of Engineering Technology in 1976 the program was expanded to include a four year Bachelor of Electrical Engineering Technology degree. These programs are separately administered but cooperate with the EE department in the use of shared laboratory facilities.

Prof. Armington left in the summer of 1966 and Prof. Turner was acting department head for one year until Richard Gibson, recently retired as a Colonel in the Air Force, became chairman of the department. Fred Irons joined the faculty in 1967, left to work at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in 1979, and returned in 1990 as Castle Professor. Gerald Kirwin joined the faculty in 1968 as resident faculty at Portland. His function was to establish a program to teach the first two years of electrical engineering and prepare students for transfer to Orono as juniors. The program was discontinued after a few years due to lack of enrollment.

Starting in the early seventies, the emphasis on research and graduate study became greater. Prior to this time the EE faculty was mostly non-Ph.D.s and the emphasis was on undergraduate teaching. Master’s degrees had been awarded over the years, mostly to Maine graduates who stayed on for an extra year or two. Under Gibson and with the arrival of John Field, Larry Kazmerski and especially John Vetelino more emphasis was put on graduate teaching and research. Graduate students from other universities in the US and abroad began to enroll. The establishment of semiconductor fabrication facilities in the Portland area in the mid-seventies initiated discussion which resulted in the offering of graduate courses in southern Maine. Faculty from Orono traveled back and forth and several qualified people employed in that area were made visiting or adjunct faculty. Enrollment was small but several people stayed in the program long enough to earn a master’s degree. Part of the cost of the program was borne by the companies involved.

The fact that the emphasis prior to 1970 had been on undergraduate teaching does not mean that no research was done. Numerous master’s theses were completed on diverse topics and some research sponsored by off-campus clients was accomplished. In addition to the high voltage work done by Paul Cloke, Harold Beverage, as a student, did his initial work on long wave antennas in 1914-15 and Professor Bliss did some early work on facsimile transmission in the thirties. One of the more intriguing topics was “Smoking Fish by Electrical Precipitation” reported on by Prof. Hill in 1947. Equally intriguing is a project done by Brown and Turner on the electrical pruning of blueberry plants. The department was at one time asked by the potato industry to investigate the feasibility of detecting by electrical means the existence of “hollow heart” in potatoes. In the late fifties a group of faculty worked on several projects related to biomedical applications. Sheppard and Bowles worked on techniques for monitoring heart action and Sheppard and Brown cooperated with the Animal Science Department on a project for NASA measuring stress due to carbon dioxide inhalation. Another important contribution by Sheppard was the establishment of a hospital engineering program which provided help to hospitals in Maine in the design of facilities and selection of equipment. This was later converted to a commercial enterprise.

With the arrival of Kazmerski, Field and Vetelino the subjects of research and development changed. More emphasis was put on solid state theory and applications and on the design and use of digital computers. Kazmerski began a solid state device fabrication laboratory and did work in the field of solar cell technology. Vetelino started his very successful work on fabrication and application of surface acoustic wave (SAW) devices. He was aided in this by two visiting professors. Waldemar Soluch was on campus two different times between 1981 and 1985 and Ryszard Lec, also from Poland, came in 1986 and later received the title Research Professor. Dr. Lec’s work with Vetelino has brought them and their students international recognition and the awarding in 1992 of an NSF grant to integrate new research results into the curriculum. Vetelino received the University Distinguished Research Award in 1980. Field led in the growth of computer related courses and in the eventual change of the department name to include computer engineering.

Others joined the department in the seventies. Basil Myers was college dean from 1974-77 and Professor of EE until his death in 1982. Ronald Rohrer arrived in 1977 to replace Gibson as department chairman and Lawrence Fisher came in 1979 to augment the computer offerings. Dr. Rohrer was department chairman for only a few years but had a major impact on the curriculum. Course offerings were streamlined and content was changed to reflect new developments. Numerous courses which had been listed but not taught were removed from the catalog. A freshman year course in computer logic was introduced in 1978. Also beginning in 1978 a student could receive academic credit for “co-op” work in industry. The retirement of Parsons in 1977 and Crosby in 1980, concluded many years of dedicated service, thirty five for Parsons, and thirty four for Crosby.

When Rohrer left, Dr. Sheppard was appointed acting chairman and served until the arrival of William Peake as chairman in 1980. Probably the most valuable contribution of Sheppard during the year that he led the department was the addition of Eric Beenfeldt. Beenfeldt was initially hired to supervise the electronic shop but his expertise in design and fabrication of electronic circuits made him invaluable in working with the upper class students on their design projects.

A design project had been a requirement for graduation since 1974 and is thought to be one of the earliest courses of its kind. Initially it was a one semester course but it rapidly expanded to the present 7 credit course spread over three semesters. Students, usually in teams of two, develop a proposal for constructing a piece of hardware ( in special cases software is accepted) to perform to a set of specifications developed by the team. If the proposal is approved, the team proceeds to design, construct and demonstrate the equipment as well as report on the project both orally and in writing. Successful demonstration is required and, if necessary, graduation is delayed until this is accomplished. Several faculty have contributed to the evolution of this course which spans the last three semesters of the curriculum. Those most actively involved were Brown, Whitney, Sheppard and Beenfeldt. One of Sheppard’s contributions was active cooperation with Mitre Corporation which employed students during the summer after their junior year and assigned them to projects which would satisfy their academic design requirement.

An award, established in 1980 to honor former dean Ashley Campbell, recognizes each year a faculty member in the college for contributions to undergraduate education. Professor Libbey was the first recipient. Professor Brown received it in 1983, Professor Turner in 1986, and Professor Irons in 1994.

The decade of the eighties brought changes in leadership and a major difference of opinion as to establishment of another electrical engineering program at the University of Southern Maine. Dr. Bill Peake, who arrived in 1980, served as department chair until 1985 at which time he chose to return to full time teaching with primary responsibility for courses related to electro-magnetic waves. John Vetelino was chair from 1985 until his successful research activities required more time than allowed by his administrative duties. John Field assumed department leadership in 1987 and as related previously led in the establishment of a computer engineering program.

The effort in the late sixties to provide a “feeder” program in Portland had failed for lack of student enrollment, but as time went by and more electronic based industries moved into southern Maine, a new interest in the opportunity for local electrical engineering education became evident. Staffing problems due to budget constraints made it more and more difficult to properly teach the graduate courses that had been established in Portland. In 1982 Brian Hodgkin was appointed associate professor to coordinate graduate offerings in southern Maine. Although he was a member of the faculty at what was then known as UMO, he resided in the Portland area and his salary was paid by the University of Southern Maine.

By 1984 pressure began to build for the establishment of an undergraduate electrical engineering program at USM. Southern Maine industries gathered the support of several influential people who effectively voiced the demand for such a program. The faculty at Orono, faced with limited funds for faculty and equipment, questioned if there was a real need. Several, sometimes controversial, meetings resulted in an agreement that the UM faculty would teach second year electrical engineering courses at USM in order to ascertain how many qualified students would be interested in continuing through a four year curriculum. In 1986 funds were provided for two Orono faculty members to live in Portland during the week and return to Orono for faculty meetings on Friday. Professors Peake and Turner agreed to this arrangement and during the fall semester of 1986 taught the second year EE courses as well as graduate courses. Peake stayed to teach the spring semester of the sophomore year and with Professor Brown taught both second year and third year courses in 1987-88. During this interval, the University System Board of Trustees held numerous meetings and finally decided that the University of Southern Maine would establish their own electrical engineering program, award their own degrees and pursue accreditation at the appropriate time.

Several young faculty arrived at Orono in the early eighties. Among these was Mohamad Musavi who rapidly established a research interest in robotics and later in neural networks. Duane Hanselman arrived in 1985 and soon revived an interest among the students in the field of automatic control. In that same year laboratory fees were established to help offset some budget constraints. This was thought to be rather revolutionary but records show that such fees were also applied from 1900-1921. Another important event during this period was the equipping of each faculty office with computer facilities for word processing or system simulation or both. At the same time a computer cluster was equipped for student use and a laboratory for computer instruction was established. Richard Eason and Don Hummels joined the faculty as assistant professors in 1988, and Seth Wolpert in 1989.

Brown retired in June of 1989; Libbey and Turner retired in January of 1990. Their combined years of service to the university totaled 124 years, 34 for Brown, 47 for Libbey and 43 for Turner.