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Industry News

University Engineers Team With Wireless Industry For Mutual Benefits

A look at the successful integration of higher education and the wireless industry in USF's WAMI Program

March 1, 2001
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Phil Leslie
College of Engineering, University of South Florida
Tampa, FL


Symbiosis is the key in the marriage of higher education and industry. That's what Larry Dunleavy thinks. That's what his colleagues think. So do their many supporters from the microwave and wireless industry.

"Dunleavy is an electrical engineering faculty member at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa. He and his academic associates have devoted the past six years of their professional lives to developing an environment for exposing their students to the world of wireless industry - its challenges, its problems its future. The environment they have conjured is USF's Wireless And Microwave (WAMI) Program.

Microwaves have been a strong element of USF's College of Engineering for 30 years. However, it was in 1996 that Dunleavy and his fellow USF electrical engineering professors - Tom Weller, Rudy Henning, Horace Gordon and Paul Flikkema, now a faculty member at Northern Arizona University - decided to revamp the microwave/high speed program and make it more relevant to their students by molding the curriculum to the continually evolving needs of the industry. More specifically, they wanted to prepare USF graduates in the growing fields of commercial wireless communications without losing the applicability of microwave and electromagnetic preparation for more traditional military applications, like radar.

"We were looking for an instructional vehicle that more closely mirrored the reality of the industry's direction, " Dunleavy says. "Our intention is to provide an atmosphere where our students can learn the basic principles of wireless and microwave engineering, and at the same time give them relevant experiences that will prepare them for the realities of the industry to which they will ultimately graduate."

USF EE colleague Tom Weller considers the WAMI Lab an inspirational tool, as well as learning mechanism to prepare students their careers in the wireless and microwave industry.

"We want to excite them about the challenges of the field while simultaneously providing firm grounding for future electrical engineers." Says Weller.

Apparently industry professionals, as well as other academic experts, believe the WAMI instructional team at USF has hit upon the right combination of broad academic instruction and relevant industry application. This dual approach enhances the learning experience of the students and heightens their appeal to prospective employers.

Several big names in the industry have backed their positive views of the WAMI program with concrete support. These include such companies as Agilent, Motorola, Raytheon, Honeywell, IBM and Mini-Circuits.

When the USF electrical engineering team first proposed its redirection for USF's microwave lab, the biggest challenge facing the professors was replacing outdated laboratory equipment and facilities. Funds were limited. How could they achieve their goal? The University was able to provide some money but it was apparent outside assistance would be required.

In 1996, after an appeal that included a description of the professors' vision for a new wireless and microwave instructional laboratory, the WAMI Lab emerged. Founding grants for WAMI were secured from Hewlett-Packard (now Agilent Technologies), the National Science Foundation, Tektronix and the University of South Florida. Additional funds soon followed from Honeywell and Motorola, and some companies agreed to donate much-needed parts and supplies to the laboratories. The initial parts sponsors included. Mini-Circuit, Piezo Technologies and Cushcraft; other parts sponsors were M/A-Com, Miteq, Noise-Com and SV-Microwave.

"Those early donations enabled us to point WAMI in the direction we envisioned," says Dunleavy. "But we realized this would be an on going process of refinement and rejuvenation. Every year changes in the industry require increasingly sophisticated equipment and accessories in order to provide timely instruction."

With this problem in mind, the academic team decided to recruit a group of external advisors from the wireless/Microwave industry, other universities and the government. These experts could provide direction on equipment needs, relevant experiments and an ongoing perspective on the latest challenges related to the field.

As a result, the WAMI Advisory Board was born. Now in its fifth year, this group of industry experts meets on the USF campus every spring to offer its views and suggestions for the future direction of WAMI. The WAMI faculty have invited industry into a partnership that promises to maintain an excellent environment for teaching and research in the wireless and microwave disciplines at USF, while providing a steady stream of well-trained engineers for the industry.

Companies on the Advisory Board also realize that their suggestions for improved facilities and instruction result in the need for additional funding. And, since these companies indirectly benefit from improvements in uSF engineering facilities and instruction, they feel compelled to assist in the cultivation of future engineers.

Consequently, industry donations for WAMI Have gradually increased Donors during the past year include Xetron, RF Micro-Devices, Harris, Motorola, Raytheon and Mini-Circuits. Last spring, a three-year award from Mini-Circuits President Harvey Kayliie resulted in the largest single donation WAMI has ever received. The gift allowed for three new graduate fellowships to be established as USF for graduate study in the wireless and microwave area, in addition to support for an electrical engineering senior design competition and research.

Praise for the WAMI team's efforts is universal. Raytheon engineer Matt Smith sees WAMI training as a great stepping-stone for future engineers. "We know that when we hire a USF grad, that person can hit the ground running and be able to contribute to our efforts from the first day on the job," he says.

Motorola representative Shani Leanard pointed to the mutually beneficial relationship her company has with WAMI. "We believe this will help the industry, because we need these folks," she said when presenting Motorola's latest donation.

Peter Herczfeld, director of the microwave-light wave center at Drexel University, offered this observation: "As (an) educator, I have made it a point to visit as many laboratories as I could, and learn about innovative developments. I can say with a great degree of certainty that the best course/lab I encountered in my travels was the wireless laboratory/course at the University of South Florida." These endorsements confirm the WAMI teaching team at USF is taking the laboratory in the right direction. As Dunleavy characterizes it, WAMI is the ongoing result of partnerships and relationship building for the mutual benefit of education and industry.

 

 


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