You are here

Position Analysis

Strengths | Areas for Improvement | Challenges | Opportunities


Strengths

Broad expertise in critical enabling technologies

ECE is a broad discipline, encompassing fundamental innovations in electrical physics, materials science, electromagnetics, and electronics through information theory, signal processing, system control, computer design, robotics, transportation and power engineering. The tremendous impact of electronics and electronic systems on all aspects of technology makes ECE an important component, and in many cases the most important component, of all current science and technology innovation.

The expertise of current ECE faculty is directly applicable to all the 14 grand challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering, as well as the University’s Discovery Themes of Health and Wellness, Energy and Environment, and Food Production and Security. ECE expertise also applies to the College of Engineering’s cross-discipline areas of sensing, manufacturing, and advanced materials.

Our research includes excellence at the levels of fundamental physics, in the development and demonstration of new component technologies, in the design and deployment of major systems and networks, and in the areas of energy, sensing, control, and information.

The fundamental importance of electrical technologies makes ECE a desirable partner for collaboration across departments and colleges. Recent hires include joint appointments with Industrial and Systems Engineering, Neuroscience, and Ophthalmology. ECE collaborations across disciplines have been increasing in recent years, including many joint projects with The Ohio State University Medical Center.

Outstanding faculty members

ECE’s internationally renowned faculty members include 19 IEEE fellows and 3 AAAS fellows. A number of our faculty members have large research programs with ample funding, vibrant research groups, and significant research output. Faculty members hired during the last decade also have been very successful, with multiple major funding awards. The department’s increasing ability to attract high-quality faculty members is promoting a virtuous positive feedback that improves impact and reputation.

ECE is also expanding its faculty diversity. Recent hires of faculty members Assistant Professor Jiankang Wang and Assistant Professor of Practice Lisa Fiorentini brought the percentage of female members into the double digits for the first time in the department’s history. Our faculty also hold significant university leadership positions, including Steven Ringel, director of the Institute for Material Research (IMR), and Randy Moses, associate dean for Research in the College of Engineering.

Scholarship

Our faculty author more than 120 publications annually in high-impact archival journals, along with many publications for highly selective conferences. More than half of the department’s faculty receive more than 100 citations per year.

Ph.D. Graduates

The department has a strong Ph.D. program and a culture that emphasizes doctoral education. The metrics for the number of Ph.D. students per faculty member and doctoral degrees granted are important components of the College of Engineering’s US News and World Report ranking. The department’s ratios of Ph.D. students per faculty member and Ph.D. graduates per faculty member exceed the averages of the College of Engineering.

Center-level funding

ECE faculty have been very successful in obtaining center-level funding. Faculty members currently lead or have involvement in nine multi-university research initiatives (MURIs, See Page 19), a National Science Foundation Materials Research and Engineering Center, an NSF Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, two NSF Industry and University Cooperative Research programs, an Air Force Research Laboratory Automatic Target Recognition Center, and the Crash Imminent Safety University Transportation Center. Our faculty have been very successful in obtaining Ohio funds as well, including the Center for High Performance Power Electronics (CHPPE), which is sponsored by the Ohio Development Services Agency.

Commitment to teaching

The department requires that non-laboratory courses are taught by faculty members, ensuring student receive the highest-caliber instruction. ECE faculty have an average rating of 4.4 out of 5.0 on the Student Evaluation of Instruction.

Facilities

Ohio State has one of the largest ECE departments in the nation in terms of space, with access to facilities that are on par with the best in the nation in the areas of high performance computing, electromagnetics/microwaves, medical imaging, intelligent transportation systems, energy systems, solid state, and robotics. Our facilities include space in Dreese Laboratory, Caldwell Laboratory, and two buildings of the ElectroScience Laboratory (West Campus).  We have the ability continue to expand through access to new West campus facilities.

Alumni

Our alumni’s success contributes to our strong reputation. Many of our alumni hold or have held executive-level positions in top technology companies and government entities in the United States and abroad. Many alumni are actively engaged in research collaborations with department faculty and are continuing advocates for hiring Ohio State students in their companies. Thanks to the department’s longevity and size, we have one of the largest alumni bases (close to 10,000) of any ECE department in the country.

Strong demand from students

Demand for our undergraduate and graduate programs was identified as a weakness in the 2009 strategic plan. This period marked a low point in student demand for engineering studies nationally.

Since that time, we have seen a resurgence of interest in ECE. The department is operating at capacity for undergraduate enrollment with more than 900 students and at an all-time high of 412 students in the graduate program. (See graphs, Page 24).


Areas for improvement

Resource challenges

The College of Engineering is the major source of funds for the department. These funds are our general funds. Due to past budget cuts and the historical nature of these allocations, the current levels of general fund contributions result in a constrained resource environment for departmental operations. Currently, the general fund covers only faculty and staff salaries and benefits and a limited number of graduate teaching associates. 

The department currently operates in a deficit situation with regard to staff support. Because the department remains understaffed compared to its peers, support for new initiatives is a major challenge. This situation has persisted for many years; as a result, many faculty have become accustomed to working in an environment of little internal support, limiting the growth of their research programs. The simultaneous dramatic growth in student enrollment has further strained internal resources.

Minimal support for major research initiatives

Due to resource limitations, the department has had little capability to provide incentives for major proposal development or to provide dedicated staff support for such efforts. Although many of the department’s faculty have succeeded in major program efforts despite these challenges, the current environment remains a hindrance for encouraging major program development.

Antiquated facilities

Caldwell Laboratory was built around 1950. Its condition is not consistent with that of a premier department. While some modest renovations have occurred in recent years, major renovations or a complete replacement remain necessary.

Challenges in maintaining computer engineering program

Although there are a number of faculty members associated with the computer engineering program, most tend to do research on the periphery, such as in the areas of robotics, computer vision, and networking. Without dedicated recruitment efforts upcoming faculty retirements in the area will challenge the department’s computer engineering instruction.

Uneven faculty research contributions

The department has many outstanding faculty members who are very productive both in terms of quality and quantity of research; however, a significant number of faculty members do not contribute consistently to our research and graduate education missions, which dilutes our numbers in many of the quantitative metrics used to judge our program.

Public relations and recognition

Publicity was identified as a weakness in 2009 and remains so in 2014. The addition of a dedicated public relations staff member has resulted in improvement, but additional efforts are required to achieve the wider recognition deserved by the department’s personnel. This lack of recognition is also a challenge in promoting department personnel for major awards, including membership in the National Academy of Engineering.

Representative faculty and student body

Increasing the representativeness of the faculty and student body with respect to gender and ethnicity is clearly important to ensure a diversity of experience and expertise and to provide role-models for students. The department has made progress with regard to the gender disparity among the faculty, but additional steps with regard to gender and ethnicity are needed.
Only 10.8% of current ECE undergraduate students are female, a value well below our peer institutions. Increasing the 8% of undergraduate students and 2.3% of graduate students from under-represented minority populations is also a departmental goal.


Challenges

Changing research and funding climate

The probability of a decline in overall federal research funding is high given concerns about the federal budget. Competition for federal funds, particularly major research programs, is expected to be fierce in the upcoming five-year period. Nevertheless, numerous major awards will be available, many of which will emphasize interdisciplinary research areas. The department must be prepared to compete successfully in this arena, while at the same time developing alternative sources of research funding (e.g. state, industrial, and foundation sources.)   

Enrollment capacity

The department is operating at capacity in the undergraduate and MS programs. Student demand for our programs remains high. Accommodating additional students is desirable to increase our impact on the profession and to benefit the state and national economies; however, ensuring all graduates are well prepared, productive engineers is a standard that cannot be compromised. Meeting student demand while providing high quality experiential learning and outstanding graduates will be a near-term challenge. While some actions can provide increased capacity on a limited basis, investment in new facilities and faculty are necessary if a major capacity increase is to occur.

Insufficient and outdated facilities

The poor condition of some of the department’s facilities represents a challenge for achieving success in future research and education programs. Major efforts will be required to achieve success in addressing this problem.
Increased global competition and changing educational environment
The improving number and quality of international universities (for example, those in China, India, Korea, and other countries) provide alternative opportunities for prospective students. This trend is expected to continue, so only premier ECE programs will attract a large number of international students, particularly outstanding international graduate students. The increasing number of distance learning programs, including those operating at reduced costs for a degree program, also represents a shift in the educational environment.

Increased faculty retirement

Recent changes to the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) create additional incentives for faculty hired in 1991 or earlier to retire. One third of the department’s tenure-track faculty are in this category. These faculty members have unique capabilities that have benefited the department; ensuring these positions are filled with faculty who possess needed expertise represents a major recruitment challenge.

Achieving representativeness

Achieving the goal of increased representativeness among the ECE faculty and student body will be a major challenge given the limited populations available for recruitment. Proactive efforts will be necessary to meet departmental goals in this area.


Opportunities

Discovery Themes

The university’s commitment to hire a large number of new faculty through the Discovery Themes initiative represents a major opportunity for ECE to grow and to build partnerships across the college and the university. New Discovery Theme competitions in specified topics are expected to continue throughout the upcoming five-year period. The department must dedicate a significant effort to developing successful teams and to participating in the resulting interdisciplinary institutes that are created.

College initiatives

The College of Engineering has defined several strategies for the 2011-2016 period and has begun implementation through resource commitments and by hiring new college staff members. Particular strategy areas include development initiatives, enhanced industry relations, participation in the university’s proposal development center, global initiatives, and distance learning. These emphases align well with departmental goals, and the college’s leadership in these areas will provide opportunities for ECE to participate and to benefit.

Distance education

The increased interest in and demand for distance education represents both an opportunity and a challenge for ECE. Distance learning for currently enrolled students can make our program more desirable and allow greater participation in co-op and internship programs by our enrolled students, thereby improving the experiential component of our training.  Increased production of distance learning materials by our faculty could also increase our professional education activities, which are desirable to enhance connections with industry, provide exposure for our faculty, and create new sources of revenue for the department.

Global initiatives

ECE has launched two successful student exchange programs with international universities. Such programs make our program more attractive for students interested in international training, assist in recruiting outstanding international students, and build bridges for international cooperation in a variety of areas. The emphasis on global initiatives at both the college and university levels also will provide opportunities for additional initiatives. The growing involvement of ECE faculty and students in international humanitarian engineering programs also will provide continuing and new opportunities for international engagement.

Sustainable center funding model

The impending development and implementation of a college-wide center funding model is expected to impact the department positively by supporting the growth of successful research centers. The ElectroScience Laboratory is one such center that is poised for additional growth, given a sustainable support model. The potential transition of the ESL to a college center in the next five years represents an opportunity that will benefit the department. The creation and growth of other college centers under ECE faculty leadership is an additional opportunity given a sustainable support model.

West Campus growth

The expected growth in facilities on West Campus will provide opportunities for new ECE facilities and for potential relocation of some research areas to improved work and research environments. Potential opportunities include expanded industrial partnerships in the new ESL building and additional build-out of the CEMAS facility to accommodate related ECE efforts.

Retirements

The expected increased rate of faculty retirement over the next five-year period represents both a challenge and an opportunity. New faculty recruits can contribute to the department’s educational program while expanding research into new and strategic directions. These new faculty also will be expected to spur collaboration across traditional research boundaries into the multi-discplinary arena of future major research opportunities.

Development activity

Development of relationships with department alumni and potential donors until 2013 was largely performed only on an ad-hoc basis by the department chair as time allowed. As a result, the department’s endowment is modest and there are a very small number of endowed chairs and professorships. The College of Engineering’s allocation of department-specific staff is expected to provide a more systematic approach to development for the future, but there is a significant opportunity for improvement in this area, particularly thanks to dedicating full-time development professionals to nurture relationships with alumni and other supporters.