Founding Faculty of Electrical Engineering Honored
By Bradi Zapata
Cal State San Marcos’ electrical engineering program is known for being robust, exemplary and state-of-the-art, even though it was established just four years ago. Many attribute the program’s success to founding faculty member Dr. Reza Kamali, who tirelessly impacts the lives of students and is shaping the history of electrical engineering at the university and throughout North County.
In 2019, Kamali considered the ideal pathway for the program; he led by defining a modern pathway for electrical engineering. This included establishing a curriculum with 18 courses, helping to renovate the Viasat Engineering Pavilion to facilitate 12 laboratory courses, each with cutting-edge technologies, and becoming the founding adviser for three student organizations. He accomplished this all while fostering relationships with local industries and creating a distinguished reputation for CSUSM, the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (CSTEM), and most importantly, electrical engineering students.
“We can proudly say that here in San Diego County, we have one of the most modern undergraduate programs in electrical engineering with one of the best laboratories for undergraduate students in the entire country,” said Jackie Trischman, dean of CSTEM.
It is for these reasons, and many more, that Kamali has earned the prestigious Outstanding Leadership in Engineering Award from the San Diego County Engineering Council.
“Dr. Kamali is a powerful voice for engineering both on our campus and in the community. More than that, he is a believer in the power of education to transform lives,” said Trischman, who nominated Kamali for the award. “He is a kind man and a supportive mentor and colleague. We are honored to have him on our faculty in CSTEM.”
In May, the program will graduate its first class of 20 students, and since fall 2019, the enrollment in the electrical engineering program has increased. In the 2022-23 academic year, over 115 students started the pathway in the program, a vast increase from Kamali’s initial goal of 60 enrollments for the fourth year of the program.
This growth has prevailed over many obstacles -- short staffing due to hiring freezes, COVID-19 restrictions, and developing curricula in a broad array of electrical engineering disciplines, such as communication systems and circuits, power and renewable energy, control systems, integrated digital circuits and systems, signal processing, etc.
Before joining CSUSM, Kamali had prior experience founding programs at other institutions, but he always had a few other faculty members to help. However, due to hiring freezes in place because of COVID-19, Kamali primarily did everything on his own in terms of classroom and laboratory curriculum development for two years.
COVID-19 stay-at-home protocols also created a challenge, as Kamali and his students didn’t have access to any of the laboratories. Kamali navigated this by quickly acquiring tools and programs that would allow the students to set up at-home laboratories within just two weeks. Because of his diligence, COVID-19 restrictions caused no gaps within the curriculum. In fact, enrollment increased.
Throughout these challenges, Kamali worked to ensure CSUSM electrical engineering students would receive every opportunity they needed to be successful. To his surprise, the program never slowed down even when he faced adversity.
Many individuals within CSTEM attribute the success to Kamali’s care for each student. His motto is to “empower students to be leaders in the future.”
“Every individual student matters to me and deserves special care,” Kamali said. “This is what equity means to me. Everyone has different needs that require different care, so when I see any student struggling, I sit with them to find solutions and make sure they are on the right path. … In terms of knowledge and coursework, even the weakest student is very important to me.”
“If they’re successful, I’m successful. If they tell me they got a job, I share it with everyone and even tell my family because it makes me so happy.”
One of the many ways that Kamali helps these students is through student-led organizations. There are six organizations centered around engineering, each requiring an adviser. Kamali is the founding adviser of the Electrical Engineering Club, National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM), an international organization that creates and disseminates affordable solutions to neglected challenges of people living with disabilities, the elderly and the poor. He is also involved in supporting the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM)
Through CSUSM’s TOM chapter, Kamali has taught his members responsibility and given them a purpose: to go into the community and solve issues. One way they do this is through finding solutions for individuals with autism spectrum disorder while partnering with TERI Campus of Life, an organization that brings together children and adults with disabilities, their families and the community.
“Currently, we are working to take a pair of safety glasses and add a Wi-Fi push button, so that if the individual faces a challenge or thinks they’re in trouble, they can push that button and through Wi-Fi, a signal will be delivered to someone who can help them,” Kamali said.
“More than being successful, it matters that our students learn to be responsible. We are empowering them to do good – socio-economically, sustainability and environmentally.”
Kamali continuously provides services to students that will impact the community and increase the diversity of the program, thus improving equity. In the future, Kamali also plans to expand the program and obtain ABET accreditation.
“For the first couple of years, our engineering program was Dr. Kamali. Every success we have and everything our students have accomplished is due to the fact that he is collaborative, dedicated and hard-working,” said Stephen Tsui, an associate professor and former physics department chair.
“It is monumental to be the first engineer of a program, and his impact is the reason why we have electrical engineering in North County. No one is more deserving of receiving recognition for outstanding leadership in engineering.”
Kamali humbly notes that this is not an award he receives as an individual, but it is an award for everyone who has built and supported the program, for CSUSM, and for the entire engineering community.
“This award means a lot to the community of engineering that we are creating,” Kamali said. “It shows that our institution is on the right path. And it shows that we are not alone; people are supporting what we’re doing.”
This award will be presented during the 72nd annual San Diego Engineers Week Awards Banquet on Sunday, Feb. 19.
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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