10:25 AM

Engineering a Program from the Ground Up

By David Ogul

Dr. Reza Kamali-Sarvestani is laying the foundation for a groundbreaking electrical engineering degree at Cal State San Marcos.

The program’s founding faculty member came to CSUSM in August from Utah Valley University, where he served as an associate professor in the Department of Engineering, and before that as a faculty member in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Rowan University in New Jersey.

Starting from scratch, Kamali-Sarvestani said, allows for opportunities that more established programs lack, and electrical engineering students will conduct cutting-edge experiments using advanced equipment and software available in a new Electronics Lab.

“Everything is new,” he said. “This is a field that is changing rapidly, and we’re looking to become a program that is innovative and advanced and in line with our evolving world and the advances in engineering.”

Electrical engineering is one of two new degree options in the Engineering Department, the other being software engineering, which got off the ground last year.

Kamali-Sarvestani certainly has the chops for the job. His research interest focuses on design and fabrication of wearable and flexible electronic circuits and components, and he is currently working on transparent electronic circuits and advanced VLSI design. As an educator, he studies the application of virtual reality for teaching and practices in nanotechnology. Before that he studied radio frequency microelectromechanical (RF-MEMS) circuits and components, and he earned his doctorate in this field from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2011.

Former co-workers say CSUSM has landed a talent.

“Reza is a very considerate person, truly dedicated to the students’ well-being, and very understanding,” said Dr. Robi Polikar, department head at Rowan University’s Electrical and Computer Engineering program. “Students here enjoyed having him as their professor.”

CSUSM launched its engineering program thanks to a $6 million, Hispanic Serving Institutions STEM grant from the U.S. Department of Education, a $1.5 million gift from Carlsbad-based communications company Viasat and its employees, and a $100,000 gift from San Marcos-based Hunter Industries.

The engineering program is tailored to appeal to the CSUSM’s uniquely diverse student populations, including recent high school graduates, community college transfers who make up nearly half the student body and local residents with ties to the region’s strong military presence.

Demand is strong. Electrical engineering jobs nationally are expected to grow 7% through 2024 and grew by more than 77% in a five-year period through 2017. That growth, according to a CSUSM program proposal form, is largely attributed to a demand for individuals who can design, test, install and maintain large-scale electronic equipment or machinery used in manufacturing or power generation or transmission.

Electrical engineers earn an average salary in excess of $102,000 annually in San Diego County, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, but experienced engineers can make significantly more.

As a founding faculty member, Kamali-Sarvestani’s responsibilities include organizing the design of instructional labs, recruiting future faculty, directing scheduling and enrollment planning, working with industry and community partners in establishing senior capstone projects, crafting an active research program for undergraduates, teaching undergraduate courses and updating the curriculum.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s very exciting,” he said.

Lower division courses include 36 units of physics, mathematics and science. Upper division courses range from Classical Electromagnetism and Methods for Physicists & Engineers to Embedded Microsystems and Ethics in Engineering. A capstone course and ample opportunity for research also are part of the program.

Approximately 400 students applied to the program. Thirty were selected to take part in the initial cohort that began this fall.

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Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist

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