Finishing the First 100 Years

The retirement of three faculty who had made such sustained, large contributions to the Department was partially offset by the return of Fred Irons. He was hired in January 1990 as the Roger Clapp Castle and Virginia Averill Castle Professor. This was the first named professorship in the Department and was established by a generous gift from Roger Clapp Castle, ’21. Since then, two other named professorships were established. The Harold R. and Grace V. Butler professorship was established by Henry R. Butler, ’20 in collaboration with his three children through a pooled life income fund. The Robert N. Haskell Professorship was established through donations from the estates of Gladys M. Stetson and Robert N. Haskell ’25.

Bill Peake officially retired in 1991 but agreed to stay on and teach courses on a part time basis. This was a big help to the Department, particularly in covering the electromagnetics area.

Jim Patton joined the Department in 1991 with a specialty in electric power systems, a new Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, and fifteen years of industrial experience. He modified the Department’s course offerings in power by initiating new courses and significantly revising others. He also began an active research program that received funding from a variety of government and industrial sources. Perhaps one of his most significant accomplishments was to form the Power Research Association (PRA). The PRA is a consortium of electric utilities and paper manufacturers who pool their resources to support research and education in electric power systems.

Bruce Segee, who received his BS (’85) and MS (’89) from UM, returned in 1992 after receiving his Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire. He was the first faculty member hired specifically for the computer engineering program. He made an immediate impact by revising existing computer-oriented courses and introducing others. He also instituted a multi-faceted research program funded by NSF and industry. One of his major industrial projects was to contribute to the automation of a large manufacturing plant. The success of this endeavor led to several similar projects.

In 1992 the name of the Department was expanded to Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). The change recognized the computer engineering BS degree offered by the Department and also reflected the importance and pervasiveness of computers in electrical engineering. Computer engineering had its first accreditation evaluation in 1992 which resulted in the program being accredited.

Also in 1992 the Department revised its curriculum to allow electrical engineering students to choose a concentration area for their electives. The new curriculum allowed students to choose seven electives in their Junior and Senior years instead of the four previously allowed. As this is written, there are six concentration areas: Power and Industrial Control; Digital Electronics; Analog Electronics; Communications and Signal Processing; Fields, Waves and Devices; and Computer Hardware.

During this time major revisions were also made to the freshman ECE courses. Previously these courses dealt with digital logic design and assembly language programming. The present courses are similar in that they give the students an introduction to electrical and computer engineering and also develop some useful skills. However, now there is an emphasis on learning to use microcomputers for engineering calculations, assembly language programming is for a microcontroller, and the digital logic is used to interface to this microcontroller. The students also learn to solder, wire wrap, and trouble shoot the electronic circuits they design and build. Eric Beenfeldt and Al Whitney were primarily responsible for developing these courses although Eric now has sole responsibility.

Under the leadership of Computing and Network Manager, Bruce Littlefield (the Department’s first Computer Engineering graduate), the Department’s computing facilities are first rate. We now have a complex network of 40 UNIX and UNIX-like workstations and well over 100 microcomputers. The network is an integral part of the teaching and research efforts of the Department and has contributed greatly to the success of both these areas.

Beginning in the late 1980’s a sagging state economy caused University funding reductions that have continued to the present. Fortunately for the Department, at the same time, alumni support and external funding rose dramatically. As we enter our second century the Department is averaging close to $1 million per year in external grants for its research, development, and education efforts. With the help of alumni donations for scholarships and equipment, we have been able to not only maintain, but to actually increase the quality and scope of our efforts.

The current thrust of the Department is to undertake education and research/development efforts that not only further basic knowledge, but also contribute to the economic well being of the State of Maine and the country. Some such contributions of Jim Patton and Bruce Segee are described above; other examples follow. Rick Eason and Eric Beenfeldt developed a special purpose robot to automate the final steps in the manufacturing process for dress shoes; this work has led to several other projects. John Vetelino and Ryszard Lec have worked with several companies to commercialize the applications of sensors; Vetelino is also a principal in a company with a similar goal. Fred Irons and Don Hummels have established a national reputation in the characterization of high performance analog to digital converters; their work is supported by both the government and industry. Mohamed Musavi is applying neural networks to areas as diverse as characterizing mouse chromosomes and controlling the making of paper. Duane Hanselman is nationally known for his work with permanent magnet motors and their applications. All of these faculty involve undergraduate and graduate students in their projects. Thus, in addition to furthering knowledge and helping industry, they are also giving the country’s future electrical and computer engineers practical experience at the cutting edge of their field.

As we end our first hundred years we can look back on the accomplishments of our graduates and faculty with pride and a sense of a job well done. We can also look forward to our second hundred years with the knowledge that our faculty and students are among the finest in the country and that they will help lead Maine, and America, in finding answers to the challenges of the 21st century.