Past Undergraduate and Graduate Student Spotlights

Matthew Morea, Senior - Class of 2013

photo of Matthew Morea
  • Hometown: Bakersfield, CA
  • Favorite Class: Circuits and Electronics II (ECE 137B)
  • Student Organization Memberships: Tau Beta Pi, Regents and Chancellor's Scholars Association
  • Interesting aside about Matthew: I was the Drum Major of my high school's marching band

Favorite things about

  • UCSB: Right next to the beach
  • Electrical Engineering program: World-class professors that actually care about their students
  • Santa Barbara: Great wealth of activities

Why Matthew chose UCSB

UCSB's EE program is one of the best in the world. Also, I received a scholarship, so the choice was obvious.

How did you hear about UCSB's Electrical Engineering program?

I learned about it when I was researching for colleges online during high school.

Why Electrical Engineering?

I have always been captivated by technology. While I initially considered Computer Engineering due to my passion for PCs, I ultimately decided to pursue Electrical Engineering after taking AP Physics in high school because the specifics of circuit design and the science behind it intrigued me.

Students and parents often ask, what can you do with an electrical engineering degree?

Electrical and Computer Engineering degrees open many doors in research and industry with all of its subdivisions - such as analog circuits, digital design, signal processing, device physics, robotics, power distribution systems, and computer networks. In addition, there are plenty of opportunities in non-technical jobs as project managers for a variety of companies.

Advice Matthew gives to students/parents about applying to UCSB

  • Student Advice: Although I doubt any aspiring student can deny the allure of the beach, visit the campus before making a decision to see if the school is right for you.
  • Parent Advice: Do not let the "party school" reputation of UCSB deter you. Academics come first for most engineers.
photo of Matthew Morea

Looking back, what do you think you would have wanted your parents to know about UCSB EE?

UCSB's EE department has a diverse group of professors that cover many disciplines. Such diversity allows students to find and pursue their specialty.

What have you learned that has surprised you the most so far?

The most surprising aspect of EE is how deep even the smallest subset of the subject can be and that engineers can spend entire careers trying to understand such minutiae.

What was your most challenging but rewarding course and how did you overcome it?

Probably the majority of my fellow electrical engineers would agree that Circuits & Electronics II (ECE 137B) is the most challenging class in the curriculum (at least within the first three years). The toughest aspect is definitely the lab, where students must create a circuit with minimal instructions. Through hard work and perseverance, however, one can accomplish this difficult task and gain considerable practical knowledge along the way. Thankfully, Professor Theogarajan is very supportive and cares about the success of every one of the students in his class.

Are there any specific classes that you are looking forward to?

I am looking forward to Integrated Circuit Design & Fabrication (ECE 124B & 124C) because I will be able to get hands-on experience with designing and fabricating integrated circuits in a clean room.

What area do you want to specialize in?

I want to specialize in nanotechnology, since it is a growing field with a lot of promise for solving problems in medicine, computation, and energy. Moreover, the physics of electrical engineering has always interested me.

Have you done an internship?

By applying online, I acquired an internship at Chevron as a "Facilities Engineer" in Bakersfield, where I worked on both automation and power systems. While leading several teams on projects each worth over $100,000, I learned about power distribution, steam cogeneration plants, and more.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I eventually want to go into industry, but I plan on attending graduate school first to study nanotechnology.

High School Experiences

  • Your high school mentor: I never had what I would call a "mentor" in high school, but I appreciate how all of my math and science teachers pushed their students to reach their true potential.
  • Favorite class in high school: The most enjoyable classes in high school for me were AP European History and AP Government due to the funny and entertaining teachers. However, my favorite subjects were always science-related, since I love learning how the world works.
  • Share what your college search was like: I looked up the best EE schools in California, and UCSB was near the top.

Preparation for UCSB

  • What prepared you the most for studying engineering in college? My physics class definitely prepared me the most with its difficult tests and open-ended labs.
  • Are there any classes that you suggest EE students take before entering UCSB and why? Calculus and physics are probably the most important foundational classes. If available, a programming class may be useful.
  • Are there any additional things that you would like to share with students to help them prepare for college? Even though your school may not offer true engineering classes, those who want a head start can take advantage of the near endless supply of knowledge that the internet offers.

Student Life at UCSB

  • What is the social scene like for electrical engineering students? The social scene is very inviting. On campus, most students and professors are willing to provide help or advice. Also, numerous clubs and intramural sports are available. In IV and off-campus, there are many opportunities to relax and unwind.
  • Describe your housing situation: I have stayed on campus during my time at UCSB due to the convenience and the quietness. It provides the best of both worlds by being within walking distance of classes and IV. At the same time, I can study within my own room without being disturbed by noise from IV.

Kene Akametalu, Senior - Class of 2012

photo of Kene Akametalu in the Digital Systems Instructional Lab
  • Hometown: Carson, CA
  • Favorite Class: Circuits and Electronics I (ECE 137A)
  • Interesting aside about Kene: I was born in Enugu, Nigeria and my family is from a village called Enugu-Ukwu. I am the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family.

Favorite things about

  • UCSB: The overall college culture - we get our work done, but still have time for fun. I also like that everyone is friendly.
  • Electrical Engineering program: The program is challenging and respected. I am also fascinated by how knowledgeable the professors are, and their overall commitment to teaching.
  • Santa Barbara: Everyone knows that the city is beautiful, so I take pride in telling people I go to school in Santa Barbara.

Why Kene chose UCSB

I was really drawn to the school after I attended the Chancellor's Reception at LAX. UCSB did a great job of promoting undergraduate research, and I was excited at the opportunity to participate in the Summer Institute of Mathematics and Science (SIMS) Program. Through the program I was able to do research the summer before my freshman year.

How did you hear about UCSB's Electrical Engineering program?

One of my High School counselors mentioned it when we were looking into colleges.

Why Electrical Engineering?

I wanted to be an engineer because I enjoyed math and physics in high school, and I wanted a career that would allow me to apply both of these subjects. The decision to study electrical engineering was somewhat arbitrary.

Students and parents often ask, what can you do with an electrical engineering degree?

UCSB has two or three career fairs every year and there are always companies looking to hire electrical engineers. Companies including: Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, SanDisk, Microsoft, and some local companies to name a few. Some students make themselves more marketable by pursuing advanced degrees (Masters and PhDs). There are also opportunities in other fields such as law, medicine, or business.

Advice Kene gives to students/parents about applying to UCSB

  • Student Advice: start working on your statements early.
  • Parent Advice: make sure that the students start their statements early.
photo of Kene Akametalu

What have you learned that has surprised you the most so far?

How abstract and powerful mathematics can be. Mathematical concepts such as Fourier Transforms and Taylor Expansions are extremely important to engineers.

What was your most challenging but rewarding course and how did you overcome it?

Circuits and Electronics I (ECE 137A). Prior to this course we had been given instructions on how to build all of our circuits. In this course we were responsible for the design and implementation of a circuit that simulated a bouncing ball. It was rewarding to go from the theory to a working circuit. The class material was also difficult and the professor expected a lot from us. He wanted us to know everything about the circuit from the device physics level to the signals and systems level with concepts like feedback. He tried to tie together all the concepts we had learned in previous classes. It was challenging, so I made sure to do assignments early and go to office hours. I just stayed positive and asked for help when I needed it. Everyone struggled.

Are there any specific classes that you are looking forward to?

ECE 194D. I think it will be really fun to work with robots. I heard last year students designed a robot to play beer pong.

What area do you want to specialize in?

Controls because the field is very heavy in mathematics. As I have gone through my undergraduate degree at UCSB, my appreciation for mathematics has increased. Controls would allow me to apply my joy for mathematics to practical engineering problems.

Have you done an internship?

Last summer I did an internship here at UCSB through the Center of Energy Efficient Materials (CEEM). I characterized the performance of InGaN based solar cells versus solar flux concentration. I heard about the opportunity from the director of the internship, and I applied for it.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I want to obtain a Ph.D. There is a lot more for me to learn before I start working, and I am also interested in doing cutting edge research. I have applied to Berkeley, Michigan, UC San Diego, Georgia Tech, University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, and MIT. After grad school, I would like to work in industry for some time because it will make me a more well-rounded engineer.

Preparation for UCSB

  • Are there any classes that you suggest EE students take before entering UCSB and why? I would suggest calculus, physics, and programming courses
  • Are there any additional things that you would like to share with students to help them prepare for college? Do not forget why you are going to college. The sooner you have your priorities straight, the sooner you will start to succeed.

Student Life at UCSB

  • What is the social scene like for electrical engineering students? The social scene is whatever you want it to be. You can participate in EE related extra-curricular activities like research or individual projects, and you can go to the gym or play intramural sports. Isla Vista also has a very rich social scene and the sporting events are also very fun. Student organizations are also a very good social outlet. Anything I do with friends is fun and that usually is playing sports, going to student organized events, and sporting events. There is time to have fun, but engineer just have less time than the average student
  • Describe your housing situation: I live in an apartment close to campus with three other guys. We all lived on the same hall in our dorm freshman year.
  • What do you think parents would want to know about UCSB? Student safety is a priority on our campus. There are constantly programs and workshops that warn against things like excessive alcohol consumption, intolerance, and sexual harassment. Even with all its craziness, Isla Vista is a very safe place (as long as students do not put themselves in compromising situations). For students that might not like the IV culture, RHA (Residence Halls Association) does a good job of offering students alternatives.

Luis Rocha, Junior - Class of 2012

photo of Rocha in the computer lab
  • Hometown: Coachella, CA
  • Study Area: Computer Engineering Program
  • Organizations: Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and Los Ingenieros
  • Favorite Class: Introduction to Robotics - Robot Control (ECE 181C)
  • Interesting aside about Luis: I have two older brothers who are also Computer Engineers

Favorite Things About

  • UCSB: awesome people, everyone is friendly
  • Electrical Engineering program: ability to take classes in the subjects I'm interested in
  • Santa Barbara: weather and location, not too far and not too close to home

Why UCSB?

I wanted to go to a research institution and I really liked the UCSB campus when I first went to visit. After looking into the Computer Engineering program, I was determined to go to UCSB. The program offered classes that I wanted to take and was a very friendly environment.

Why Electrical Engineering?

My life has always revolved around computers. I have always wondered how they work and how they are able to do so many things. Every computer has a hardware and software component and I am focusing on computer engineering since it is a mixture of the two.

What was your most challenging but rewarding course?

ECE 181C, Robotics Control. I took this class during the summer and spent most of my time playing with LEGOs and building autonomous robots out of them. It was challenging because this class was interdisciplinary, we had to design the mechanical, electrical, and software components and make them all work together.

List the benefits of a program that is a cross between Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

In computer engineering, we get to learn the basics of both CS and EE, and can bridge these two fields together. Plus, if we like one field more than the other, we can choose to focus in that field.

Luis sitting outside of the College of Engineering

What area do you want to specialize?

I want to specialize in artificial intelligence and robotics. I like building something then watching it move around and do things.

Have you done an internship?

Yes, this past summer I interned at the Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CERT) at UC Riverside. I worked closely with transportation engineers on traffic simulations and emissions modeling. My project involved implementing specialized traffic light controllers by writing DLL files for the traffic simulation software. The goal was to improve traffic flow while reducing vehicle emissions. This was a great experience for me and I learned a lot about how people travel and the effect of vehicle emissions on the environment.

Advice to students/parents about UCSB and Electrical Engineering

  • Students: Learn how to manage your time well, there are lots of things going on and good time management is essential
  • Parents: Engineering is challenging, but if you are supportive your son/daughter can excel in this field

What have you learned that has surprised you so far?

How the transistor is has shaped our modern lives since it is used in nearly every electronic device.

What is the social scene like for Electrical Engineering students?

It's good, I like to go out with friends and have fun, play games, or just relax.

Describe your housing situation

I live in the dorms. They're really nice and are on-campus.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I hope to go into industry to gain some experience and work in the robotics field designing algorithms. After a few years, I'd like to go to graduate school to get an advanced degree in computer science with my final goal being to return to industry.

Laura Koenig, Senior - Class of 2011

Laura in the lab
  • Hometown: Sunnyvale, CA
  • Organization Memberships: UCSB Triathlon Team, Tau Beta Pi, Make-a-Wish Foundation (WISH)
  • Favorite Class: Signal Analysis & Processing (ECE 130A/B)
  • Interesting aside about Laura: I spent last summer in Italy and hope to get citizenship so I can live with my relatives in the future

Favorite things about

  • UCSB: it has lots of opportunities
  • Electrical Engineering program: I know almost everybody in my major
  • Santa Barbara: it is gorgeous

Why Laura chose UCSB

I knew that I loved the feel of the school and the campus at UCSB. When I learned that the engineering program was good I was thrilled because I knew I wanted to come here. It is a smaller program at a large school, which meant I would have the opportunity to explore my options but have smaller class sizes at the same time.

Why Electrical Engineering?

I was interested in math and science coming out of high school, which made me want to pursue a major in those fields. Engineering seemed to be the most practical major that could teach me the relevant applications of what I would learn. I decided on electrical because I felt that it could be applied to almost anything, making it the most versatile choice.

Students and parents often ask, what can you do with an electrical engineering degree?

At the moment I am deciding between two paths. The first is using the background I am developing in signals and systems to go into the field of communication technology or image processing. This could be anything from cell phone technology to medical imaging technology. The other option I am weighing is delving into biological nano-machines, which would also be useful in the medical field for a range of things including targeted drug administration.

Advice Laura gives to students/parents about applying to UCSB

  • Student Advice: if you are at all interested, apply as an engineering major. It is much easier to start there and drop it if it is not what you want than to try and get into the major later. So go for it!
  • Parent Advice: Encourage your kids to try engineering, even if it sounds hard and intimidating. It is both of hard and intimidating but if they enjoy engineering it will be worth it. But do NOT force them to stay in engineering if it is not their passion, it can be a really difficult major.
Laura outside of Harold Frank Hall

What have you learned that has surprised you the most so far?

In general the complexity of the ideas in engineering are astounding. Each quarter we delve a little deeper into a subject and I've realized that there is an infinite amount of information to learn.

What was / is your most challenging but rewarding course?

The most challenging course so far has been 137A-B. Professor Theogarajan is brilliant and demanding in the sense that he wants us to actually understand the concepts behind what we are doing fully, not just go through the motions. This is great because he really cares about our learning and what we are getting out of the class. It was intimidating but in the end I am glad I went through his course because now I go about learning differently. It is more self-motivated.

What area do you want to specialize in?

I would like to work with nanotechnology in biological systems because I am interested in getting into the medical field. This means I need to now get on learning the biochemistry to be able to apply the engineering concepts I've learned so far to my desired field.

Have you done an internship?

I spent this past summer doing undergraduate research at UC Berkeley. It was a great experience to see what Ph.D. students go through while pursuing their research. My particular project was to help my mentor, Gabriel Lavella, with developing the next stage of his work on the way to creating a concentration based drug delivery system. Since I am an electrical engineer, much of his work with chemomechanical nanomachines was new to me, but it was a great learning experience. It was a short 8 weeks that helped me decide how much research interests me.

What is the social scene like for electrical engineering students?

The class sizes get increasingly smaller as you progress in the major, so you end up knowing your classmates better than other majors. EE can hinder other social interactions because of the time demands of the major including labs and homework. You have to balance your time wisely to maintain an active social life.

Describe your housing situation

At the moment I am in a nice apartment on the edge of Isla Vista living with two other girls. It is calmer than my previous situations, which is nice for getting work done. It's also more manageable to keep clean, making it a pleasant atmosphere.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I am now looking at graduate programs in Bioengineering. I would like to first go for a Masters to see what I need to know to pursue a career in medical technology. This is my main goal, so I want to be as qualified as possibly. I will only go on to a Ph.D. if I feel extremely passionate about the research opportunities I see in my field of study. For now I am really just looking forward to graduating, going to Italy for the summer and possibly taking a year between now and graduate school.

Michael Strack, Senior - Class of 2010

Michael and Little Sister at Graduation 2010
  • Hometown: Ventura, California
  • Degree progress: Fall 2010 - will enter graduate school at UCSB
  • Organization Memberships: Associated Students Bike Shop, Community Service Organization (CSO), Tau Beta Pi
  • Favorite Class: 124 B/C - Device Fabrication
  • Interesting aside about Michael: he's a UCSB resident advisor (RA) and a lead Community Service Organization member (the organization in charge of bicycles and security on campus)

Favorite things about

  • UCSB: All the great events organized by students
  • Electrical Engineering program: The very talented faculty and access to top-notch laboratories
  • Santa Barbara: The food!

Why Michael chose UCSB

Michael in front of Harold Frank Hall sign

UCSB has one of the best electrical engineering programs in the country. U.S. News & World Report has us ranked 17th in the nation this year but I don't think this statistic does us justice. With accomplished faculty and industry-quality laboratories, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better education elsewhere.

Why Electrical Engineering?

As far as engineering programs go, EE makes the most use of high-end equipment and labs. While all engineering requires hands-on experience, EE is the hardest to learn from a textbook. It makes sense to capitalize on UCSB's resources and get training that you cannot get anywhere else.

Students and parents often ask, what can you do with an electrical engineering degree?

After finishing grad school, I plan on working in industry for at least a few years. Even while the economy is hurting, there is no shortage of electrical engineering jobs. My long-term plan is to build up enough capital to create a start-up company designing effects and amplifiers for instruments.

Advice Michael gives to students/parents about applying to UCSB

  • Student Advice: come visit the campus and surrounding community first. If you like the environment, apply.
  • Parent Advice: UCSB has a stigma as a party school. Come visit and you'll see that education does come first.
Michael on campus

What have you learned that has surprised you the most so far?

I learned that I am actually a good student. I did not know this about myself.

What was / is your most challenging but rewarding course?

Anything taught by Professor Theogarajan. I learned how to cope when given impossible goals and deadlines.

What area do you want to specialize in?

Analog communication design because it combines both theory and practice.

Have you done an internship?

Yes, at a local company called Toyon Research Corporation. I worked on developing technology, chiefly involving GPS. I really learned a lot about how the real world of engineering works and I strongly recommend any students to get one. Also, engineering internships pay very well.

What is the social scene like for electrical engineering students?

Everybody has a good time at UCSB. Isla Vista is very student-oriented, so there is always fun to be had at events or with friends. Engineering means the occasional late-night lab work but the major isn't too much more demanding than any other.

Describe your housing situation

I rent a house with two other engineers and a history major in Isla Vista. I think it’s important to live with other students because it keeps you from getting too hung up on all your own studies.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I have been accepted to graduate school here at UCSB. After grad school, I will hopefully go into industry with communication circuits. UCSB has prepared me a lot for this, with all the classes, research, and career fairs that take place here.

Hong Zhang - Ph.D. Student in Communications & Signal Processing

Hong at the white board in the lab
  • Hometown: Jilin, China
  • B.S. and M.S. Degrees: B.S. - Wuhan University (2003) in Electrical Information Engineering, M.S. - Beijing Institute of Technology in Electrical Information Engineering (2006) and UCSB in Electrical & Computer Engineering (2008)
  • Degree sought from UCSB and Progress: Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering — in 4th year of program
  • Graduate Study Area: Controls - wireless communications
  • Group / Advisor: Professor Upamanyu Madhow / Wireless Communication and Sensornet Laboratory (WCSL)
  • Research Interests: channel modeling, channel capacity, spatial diversity, equalization, multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO), analog multitone (AMT)
  • Professional Memberships: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
  • UCSB Student Organizations: International Student Incorporation (ISI), Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA)
  • Hobbies: hiking, swimming

Favorite things about

  • ECE department: distinguished professors, responsible teaching assistants and smart PhD students, plus it is a good study and research environment
  • UCSB: fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean
  • Santa Barbara: awesome weather, beautiful beach and nice people

More about Hong and her research

  • Important Conferences attended: International Workshop on mmWave Communications: from Circuits to Networks (paper) and IEEE Wireless Communications and Networking Conference (WCNC) (paper)
  • Most important publication to date: "Statistical Modeling of Fading and Diversity for Outdoor 60 GHz Channels" (pdf)
  • Dissertation title: "Channel Modeling and Network Topology Design for Outdoor Millimeter Wave Mesh Networks"
  • Types of financial assistance received: Teaching Assistantship (TA) and Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)

Tell us about your research

My research focuses on the channel modeling and signal processing for the millimeter wave (60 GHz) mesh network. The increasing demand for high-definition multimedia and high speed computer communications has led to the need for a new generation of wireless networks that support higher data rates. The 60 GHz band is considered to be a promising candidate for building such high speed, short range wireless networks for a number of reasons: it offers large swathes of unused bandwidth (57-64 GHz) and has a high spatial frequency reuse because of significant attenuation due to oxygen absorption. A fundamental understanding of the radio propagation channel of such wireless links becomes the critical requirement to design the network topology as well as the higher layer protocols.

How and why did you get into your area of research?

I selected my area of research because I found it to be a very interesting and challenging topic. I also attended Professor Madhow’s class and I liked the way that he teaches students.

Why did you select UCSB and ECE in regards to your research?

UCSB has a very strong ECE department, which can be seen from its U.S. News& World Report ranking. And also I knew that there are many job opportunities at California, which is also one of the reasons I selected UCSB.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

My research can potentially increase the wireless transmission data rate in our daily life. For example, you might be able to transmit signal directly from your webcam or DVD to your HDTV wirelessly. The data rate of smart phones can also be possibly increased dramatically.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate

My research group offers strong collaborative support with lots of novel ideas arising from the discussions with my fellow group members. It is a very helpful environment that enables you to learn from people who have experienced similar research problems as you have experienced. It has also been great experience for me to work with my advisor, Madhow, who is knowledgeable and is willing to devote his time to help. He is a hard-working and nice person who has become a model for all of our group members. Our WCSL group has collaborations with other labs, such as ECE Professors Rodwell and Hespanha, and Belding (ECE / CS), as well as professors in other departments including Psychology and Computer Science.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

It has been a delightful experience working with our group members as well as with my advisor. Our group members are smart and nice people, who are willing to discuss your research problems in detail.

Where will your research take you next?

My personal career goal is to join Industry after my graduation and I am interested in some big companies in communication field. In our lab, the previous group members either joined Industry or Academia. For example, some of them joined different communication companies, such as Samsung, Qualcomm, Broadcom and some other local communication companies, while other joined ECE department at different universities.

photo of Hong sitting on a wall by the beach

Hong's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the graduate program

ECE department has excellent lab equipment, which provides graduate students opportunities to gain many useful skills. In addition, graduate level courses are well taught.

Favorite courses

Digital Communications (ECE 243A/B) taught by Professor Madhow, in this class I learned the fundamental knowledge of communication system and techniques. I also liked Communication Electronics (ECE 218A/B) taught by Professor Rodwell since I gained hands-on experience with RF circuit design.

Experience with the graduate exams

Screening exam: I recommend working in a study group because I found it to be extremely helpful for this oral exam. I felt confident to take the screening exam after taking some related course at UCSB. While the screening exam focuses on courses, the qualifying exam aims to present your thesis idea/proposal to your committee members. It is very helpful to have some suggestions from your committee members at the middle stage of your thesis research.

Describe your experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA) and Graduate Research Assistant (GSR)

I was the TA for ECE146A and B. I was holding office hours as well as labs including both MATLAB software programming as well as hardware labs. Compared with TAs from other universities (heard from friends), I think that TAs provide substantial help for the students. Being a GSR, I spend most of my time on my research, and I also take some interesting courses at the same time.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

I am a married student and I have a very young baby. I work hard on the weekdays and try my best to spend weekends with my family, since I don't want to miss any important moment of my baby's growth. I have to admit that I don’t spend enough time with my baby during the deadline time (conference deadline or exams) but I try to make it up after the deadline passes.

Social life and living in Santa Barbara

I live in UCSB Family Housing, which is a very nice community and has the cheapest rent compared to other available places to live near campus. The resident coordinators hold lots of activities including holiday events, sports activity, and parent happy hours, etc. I enjoy attending those activities since I can get to know my neighbors better. As a Chinese student, I also attend activities held by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), such as Chinese Festival Concert, weekend sport activity, etc. For the new students, CSSA provides lots of help including picking up new students, proving temporary lodge and etc. I also attend ISI Friday dinner regularly, where you can know American families and other international friends.

What will you do over summer break?

I will do a summer Internship at Broadcom, where I will work as a system engineer focusing on OFDM wireless communication techniques. In 2008 I worked at Mentor Graphics as a software engineering, focusing on the EDA software development and worked for Denali Software Company in 2009 focusing on the flash memory coding problem. These three companies are all located at Bay area. In 2010 and 2011, I spent my time on my research at UCSB.

Advice to prospective graduate students

Work hard and also play hard!

Steven Quintero - M.S. / Ph.D. Student in Controls

photo of Steve Quintero with his UAV
  • Hometown: Oxnard, CA
  • Bachelor's degree: B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ
  • Degree sought from UCSB and Progress: Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering – in 5th year of program
  • Graduate Study Area: Controls - Control and Coordination of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
  • Advisor: Professor João Hespanha
  • Research Interests: coordinated control; probabilistic planning / robotic motion planning under uncertainty; applied dynamic programming
  • Professional Memberships: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
  • Hobbies: Tennis, cycling, serving at church
  • Interesting aside about Steven: I am the first in my family to pursue a Ph.D.

Favorite things about

  • ECE department: Distinguished faculty who are major contributors in their respective fields of study, have written books in these fields, and generally teach well
  • UCSB: The beach view from my lab; the Center for Control, Dynamical-Systems, and Computation (CCDC) which is an organization across multiple departments that hosts seminar series with speakers who are top researchers
  • Santa Barbara: Beautiful scenery, perfect weather year round, great food, West Coast Believers Church

Steven and his research

  • Important Conferences attended: IEEE Conference on Decision and Control (2010) – Poster Presentation
  • Most important publications to date: "Optimal Coordination of UAVs for Target Tracking using Dynamic Programming"
  • Dissertation title: "Optimal Control and Coordination of Small UAVs for Vision-based Target Tracking"
  • Types of financial assistance received: Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)

Tell us about your research

My research addresses the problem of performing vision-based tracking of a moving ground target with small, fixed-wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) equipped with gimbaled cameras. The gimbal mechanisms have a limited range of pan-tilt angles, thereby inducing blind spots. Therefore, one aspect of my research is devising a feedback control strategy for a single UAV to maintain visibility and close proximity to the ground target while at the same time being robust to the effects of unpredictable target motion, unmodeled system dynamics, and stochastic wind. The second aspect of my research considers the optimal coordination of two or more UAVs for the purpose of minimizing the measurement error of the ground target’s position. My solutions to these problems employ tools and techniques from game theory, optimal control, and stochastic optimal control.

Why did you select UCSB and ECE in regards to your research?

I selected UCSB primarily based on the sincere, welcoming attitude of my advisor, my first year financial aid offer, and UCSB’s proximity to my hometown of Oxnard rather than any specialty research area. At the time I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to research, though my advisor carefully considered my general research interest of aerial robotics.

How and why did you get into your area of research?

My interest in the research area of small UAVs began as an undergraduate at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where I was in the McNair Scholars program and had an advisor whose primary research interest was in the area of aerial robotics. With him I designed and helped build a power management system for an autonomous helicopter, and then I did research aimed at developing a health monitoring system for the same vehicle. These experiences sparked in me an interest in aerial robotics and unmanned / autonomous vehicles.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate with others

In the past, we had a stellar postdoctoral scholar in the lab who was very helpful and collaborated with most of the students in the lab, thereby facilitating good research, publications, and successful field tests. Also, since my lab often has visiting students from foreign countries, I was able to collaborate with a visiting student from Italy to conduct research, which ultimately led to a publication in a conference proceeding.

My research is part of a joint project between Toyon Research Corporation and UCSB, where Toyon is responsible for launching, monitoring, and landing the small UAVs in order for me to test the control algorithms I develop as part of my research. Hence, I often work with the engineers from Toyon who have proven to be most helpful for testing my latest control algorithms.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

I have a great, personable advisor who is fairly hands-off, which allows me to freely explore different approaches to solving my applied research problem of motion planning for small UAVs. Furthermore, it is up to me to schedule meetings with my advisor as needed so that he can direct, approve, and review my research. My advisor is not only a great researcher, but an excellent teacher as well. Therefore, he is also able to effectively clarify certain concepts and theory that I may have trouble understanding. Moreover, my meetings with my advisor are infrequent, but they are always highly beneficial and insightful.

Although my lab-mates and I have the same advisor, we tend to work independently from one another on different research problems. Nevertheless, we often discuss our work and ideas with one another to connect with one another and receive constructive criticism. The lab also usually comes together to help critique a person’s presentation that will be given at a conference, workshop, or for their qualifying exam.

Where will your research take you next?

I plan on taking a job in industry where I can apply my knowledge of advanced control theory to solve applied research problems, preferably those related to robotics, aerospace, or automobiles.

photo of Steve Quintero

Steven's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Favorite course

My favorite course would have to be ECE 229 – Hybrid Dynamical Systems, which was taught by Professor Andrew R. Teel, a pioneer in this field. I was never more eager to take a class than this one because here we are taught cutting-edge control theory that provides flexible, effective analysis tools and robust design solutions for nonlinear / hybrid systems that are otherwise difficult to stabilize and analyze.

Experience with the screening exam and the qualifying exam

Screening exam: The screening exam has been my most difficult undertaking as a graduate student. I took the exam as a Control major and Signal Processing minor in the spring quarter of my second year. I began studying the summer after my first year, which entailed reading and practicing problems from relevant textbooks. I also took the undergraduate Digital Signal Processing class and audited the undergraduate Classical Feedback Control course in the fall quarter of my second year to help prepare me for the exam. I recall finding old homework and exams on the course websites for the classes previously taught on the relevant testing material, and I used such material to practice for the exam. Closer to the date of the exam, I started studying for the exam with a friend, and we even studied our entire spring break for this exam. This hard work paid off, as I passed the exam on the first attempt.

Describe your experience as a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)

I began working as a GSR during the summer after my first year of grad school. My advisor had received a research grant related to my research interest of aerial robotics, and he accordingly placed me on this research project. The research is for a particular application of UAVs, which incoming students with specific research agendas might regard as being a hindrance to the work they would like to do. However, I came into grad school with only a general research interest, and so I have found it to be most beneficial for several reasons. Namely, my GSR position has allowed me to work on a research problem I enjoy, helped shape the specific topic of my thesis, and also funded my graduate school career

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

My first year as a graduate student consisted solely of coursework and tended to be somewhat imbalanced, as homework and studying took up most of my time. Nevertheless, I did occasionally make time for recreational and social activities. Now that my graduate career primarily consists of research, I have a somewhat less demanding work schedule that allows me to do most of my work during the week and spend more time doing the things I enjoy on the weekends. Of course, there are times when my workload ramps up and I find myself spending more hours in the lab. The general trend, at least for my major, is that one’s workload becomes somewhat less demanding after completing coursework and passing the screening exam.

Social life and living in Santa Barbara

Oftentimes I go out to lunch with friends from ECE, my lab, and church to places in Isla Vista, Goleta, and Santa Barbara. I also head down to my hometown of Oxnard nearly every weekend to spend time with my family and friends there. Also on the weekends I enjoy helping out at church, especially serving and teaching in the children’s service. I also like to cycle and play tennis with a friend of mine from ECE, as these are especially good activities to do with the beautiful scenery and marvelous weather of Santa Barbara. I have always lived off campus in Goleta. My first four years I rented out a room from a married couple for a great price. There I lived close to the bike trail that I often took to campus, and I had a quiet, peaceful study environment with full house privileges and great housemates. I have since moved into a very similar living situation, where I still have great rent and live conveniently close to campus and the Calle Real Center. Overall I have become very fond of living in Santa Barbara and would really like to work in the area after graduating.

What do you do over summer break?

Although my plan is to head into industry, I always leave open the possibility of returning to academia after a career in industry to both teach and motivate mathematics and engineering. Hence, I co-mentored four talented students from Dos Pueblos High School as part of a robotics summer internship program in order to teach them general engineering and programming principles, and more specifically the power and necessity of feedback control. During this summer of engineering challenges, the students programmed several iRobot Create robots in Java to autonomously: drive to a certain position, drive on a circle, rendezvous, and cooperatively manipulate objects. During this summer, I was able to learn some of the joys and challenges of teaching while the students gained real-world engineering knowledge and experience.

I also took a week off at the beginning of July to spend time with friends and also with family members who were visiting from out of state. Overall, I had a great time visiting Cold Spring Tavern, watching 4th of July fireworks, and taking a trip to Magic Mountain.

Advice to prospective graduate students

UCSB is a great institution at which to pursue a Masters/ Ph.D. in electrical engineering because of its distinguished ECE faculty, great facilities, and beachside campus. Not only do you receive instruction and collaborate with faculty who are top researchers / contributors in their fields, you also live in the beautiful city of Santa Barbara, where there is plenty to do and see.

Peter Lisherness - Ph.D. Student in Computer Engineering


photo of Peter Lisherness at whiteboard in the lab
  • Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
  • Previous Degrees: BS and MEng in Electrical Engineering and MBA from the University of Louisville
  • Graduate Study Area: Computer Engineering - Electronic Design Automation
  • Advisor / Group: Tim Cheng / SoC Design and Test Lab
  • Research Interests: verification, validation, test, coverage metrics, reliability
  • Degree Sought and Progress: Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering (in 4th year of program)
  • Professional Memberships: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society
  • Important Awards & Honors: 2008-09 Outstanding Computer Engineering Teaching Assistant
  • Activities and Interests: skiing, hiking, cooking, crossword puzzles

Favorite things about

  • UCSB: biking or walking everywhere, laid-back atmosphere
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering Department: plenty of grad students, lots of great, friendly staff and faculty
  • Santa Barbara: the weather, the ocean, the mountains, the farmers' markets

Peter and his Research

  • Dissertation Title: "Validation Coverage Metrics and their Applications"
  • Title of Most Important Publication to Date: Peter Lisherness and Kwang-Ting (Tim) Cheng. 2010. SCEMIT: A SystemC Error and Mutation Injection Tool. In Proceedings of the 47th Design Automation Conference (DAC '10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 228-233.
  • Important Conferences Attended: Design Automation Conference (DAC) - paper; IEEE International High Level Design Validation and Test Workshop (HLDVT) - paper; International Test Conference (ITC); and IEEE VLSI Test Symposium (VTS)
  • Financial Assistance Received: Teaching Assistantship (TA) and Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)
  • Website: Peter Lisherness, Ph.D. Candidate

Why Electrical and Computer Engineering and UCSB?

When I first applied I didn’t know exactly what research I wanted to do... in retrospect I don’t think anyone really does until after a few years working on their PhD. UCSB’s ECE department has lots of faculty working in electronic design automation in lots of different directions, so I knew I would find something that inspired me.

Tell us about your research

My work currently focuses on verification and validation coverage metrics for large-scale circuits. These functional test tasks can be somewhat challenging: it is often much easier to design a circuit than it is to show that you designed the right circuit. Coverage metrics are a way of measuring our thoroughness in testing and exposing aspects of the design that have not been given sufficient attention.

How did you get into your area of research?

I’ve been writing software since I was a kid and doing it as a job since I was 13. When I entered college I tried to mix things up by pursuing electrical engineering instead of computer science. I guess that plan backfired; I still write software, although the things I’m writing rely just as much on my electrical engineering education.

What do you find particularly rewarding about your research?

As a programmer, design automation is great because it has a lot of scalability issues. I’ve always loved algorithms and optimization, and turning a week-long experiment into a day- or hour-long one with a couple clever tweaks is extremely gratifying. Every time I run an experiment to answer some question I have, it always leads to another question. It is a constant stream of puzzles, an endless journey. It keeps my mind occupied and always gives me something new and exciting to work on.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and working with an advisor

My group members are a great support network. They help shoot down foolish ideas, strengthen good ones, and are good friends as well. My advisor, Professor Tim Cheng, is great to work with. His experience is invaluable in guiding my research toward something useful and keeping me focused.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere. Do you collaborate with others?

While the core of my work does not involve intense collaboration (e.g. daily interaction or shared source code), working with others is still a big part of it. In addition to weekly group meetings, my labmates and I will frequently bounce ideas off of each other, exchange papers for editing, and practice presentations. I also interact with industry a lot, which is pretty common in the CE program. First, there are grant reviews, where we present our latest research directly to the companies that sponsor us. I have also done two internships with Intel (totaling 10 months), which provided invaluable experience and perspective for my research. My supervisor from Intel is also on my thesis committee and a mentor on my grant, so he and I communicate regularly to make sure the work is proceeding in a meaningful direction. Finally, I meet with both industry and other universities at conferences. One benefit to being in California is the proximity of most top conferences, which tend to be held within driving distance. Even if I don’t have a paper, I will sometimes go for a workshop or to help as a volunteer. You meet many students from other universities at these events, people who will be your future colleagues.

Where will your research take you next?

Immediately after graduating I plan to take a job in industry. With any luck, I’ll find a position that lets me publish enough to remain academically relevant so that my future options are kept open. Eventually I would like to teach, even if only part-time as an adjunct professor.

Peter's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Peter working out a problem on the white board

What do you think are the strengths of the ECE graduate program?

The graduate courses are very in-depth they really show both the history of as well as the latest developments in their respective topics. Standards are high and it takes a lot of hard work to graduate, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Favorite course

Although I didn’t take it for credit, I sat in on and thoroughly enjoyed the graduate-level advanced computer architecture course. Professor Melliar-Smith’s lectures are always very engaging, and really make you think.

Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) and Teaching Assistant (TA) experience

Most of the time I am a GSR, but I’ve done two TAs. The first was computer architecture, which consisted of discussion section, office hours, and grading. I’ll admit I’m not too fond of grading, which is why I opted for this upper-division class with fewer students. In discussion section and office hours you really get to know the students, it is great seeing them figuring things out. My second TA was computer design, and I ended up having many of the same students as before. This is a lab class where students build a simple microprocessor using various discrete logic components and an FPGA. I spent a ton of time in the lab showing them how to debug Verilog code and big, tangled breadboards. It was very demanding, but you end up feeling a personal responsibility to make sure that everyone gets everything they can out of the class.

Share your experience about the PhD exams

I was pretty frightened about the screening exam, and joined a study group of around 8 people months in advance. This was the first time I had ever been in a study group, or ever really seriously studied, for that matter. When the day finally arrived I made my way through it with confidence and ease, but I can’t imagine how impossible it would have been if I hadn’t done all that studying. The qualifying exam was a much less intimidating matter, albeit arguably more important. By the time I was ready for it, I already had my research topic pretty well figured out and slides from conferences I was able to use in the presentation.

Graduate Student & Social Life and Living Situation

What is your life like as a graduate student?

My quality of life depends a lot on whether there is a conference deadline looming. Most of the time, I work regular hours and still have weekends free for skiing, hiking, and cookouts at Goleta Beach. When a deadline approaches though, the intensity of work increases and I don't have much free time in my weekends or evenings. I still manage to cook dinner and get to the gym a couple times a week, but it can be pretty intense. Right after a deadline I usually take it easy for a week or so to recharge and catch up on chores... and then the cycle starts all over again.

Social Life and living in Santa Barbara?

I live in Family Student Housing with my wife, who is also a PhD student in the ECE department. We have a number of friends (also primarily ECE grad students) who live nearby that we hang out with on the weekends or go on trips with during breaks. Living in Santa Barbara is great: you are always so close to nature. There is always some sort of flower in bloom along my daily bike ride into the lab, and whenever I want to clear my head I can just walk down to the beach and listen to the ocean. The farmers' market runs year-round with some of the freshest and cheapest food you can find anywhere. Where else can you get 50 cent locally grown avocados? You're also never trapped in SB. Within a day's drive I can be in San Francisco, Tahoe, San Diego, Las Vegas, Sequoia, or, most often, at Mammoth Mountain.

What did you do over your Summer break?

I spent this last summer on internship at Intel in Austin, TX. It was a great experience, but I was glad to come back home to Santa Barbara.

Advice to prospective graduate students

UCSB is a top research institution located in paradise; I feel immensely fortunate to be here. Quality of life is at least as important as quality of education, and you don't have to pick just one or the other.

Yan Zheng - M.S. / Ph.D. Student in Electronics & Photonics

Yan in the optoelectronics and photonics lab
  • Hometown: San Diego, CA
  • Bachelor's degree: B.S., Electrical Engineering, UC, San Diego
  • Graduate Study Area: Electronics and Photonics
  • Group / Advisor: Optoelectronics Technology Center - Professor Larry Coldren Group
  • Research Interests: VCSELs, semiconductor lasers, molecular beam epitaxy
  • UCSB Student Organizations: President UCSD IEEE student branch (2003-05), UCSB IEEE student branch graduate student mentor (2006), Program director of Leadership in Team Engineering (UCSB 2006-2008), Founding Father Eta Kappa Nu [HKN], Kappa Psi Chapter (2005)
  • Professional Memberships: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Optical Society of America (OSA)
  • Awards & honors: Featured paper in Electronic Letters vol. 46 issue 24 (UCSB 2010), OIC-Instructional Improvement Grant recipient (UCSB 2007), UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering Student Leadership Award (2005), IEEE Outstanding Leadership Award (UCSD 2005), IEEE Student Branch Membership Growth Award (UCSD 2005)
  • Hobbies: I have been studying kung fu and tai chi for 5+ years. I am also interested in woodworking and fixing/breaking things around the house.
  • Interesting aside about Yan: I played clarinet for 4 years in the San Diego Youth Symphony and toured through Europe; I am a black belt equivalent in Wing Chun kung fu; and I have raced my car at the Streets of Willow Springs race course in Lancaster, CA.

Favorite things about

  • ECE department: I like the friendly collaborative atmosphere between faculty members. The equipment and technical expertise is also some of the best around.
  • UCSB: The University does a great job of attracting really interesting concerts/lectures/performances at a low price for students. Traditions like Halloween in IV are also welcome distractions from research.
  • Santa Barbara: SB has a lot of the basic necessities for any city without the traffic and congestion. The food options are surprisingly diverse for a small town and there are many things you can do outdoors. Plus, I love the fact that there is a farmers market 5 min from campus.

Yan and his research

  • Important Conferences attended: Optical Fiber Communications Conference
  • Most important publications to date: Zheng, Y.; Lin, C.-H.; Coldren, L. A.; , "Control of Polarization Phase Offset in Low Threshold Polarization Switching VCSELs,"/Photonics Technology Letters, IEEE/, vol.23, no.5, pp.305-307, March1, 2011 AND "Large extinction ratio and low threshold dual intra-cavity contacted polarisation switching VCSELs", Electronic Letters, vol. 46 (24), 2010
  • Dissertation title: "Laser Active Region Design for High Speed Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Lasers"
  • Types of financial assistance received: I have been a Teaching Assistant (TA) and a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR).

Tell us about your research

My work is focused on the epitaxial growth, fabrication and application of Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers. We are working on ways to increase modulation speed and control other aspects of the output to fit needs in high speed communication, imaging and ranging applications.

Why did you select UCSB and ECE in regards to your research?

I felt that (and still do) photonics will only grow as an academic field and will be the building blocks that drive many future systems. I was also well taken care of during the recruitment weekend and the professors were enthusiastic about their research. I wanted to work on lasers and Dr. Coldren (my advisor) wrote the book on lasers, literally.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate with others

Epitaxial growth is a very involved process because of the many instruments needed to achieve ultra high vacuum. Since repairs and maintenance are generally performed by students, it takes a great deal of coordination to keep the machine in good working order. Communication is also key with knowledgeable staff members to avoid costly and potentially dangerous mistakes. Like growth, fabrication and testing are crafts that require skill and understanding. I have found that it is imperative to defer to and rely on students that have experience in these fields for help.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

Like any work place, one needs to be respectful of other people. Your colleagues all have something to share and it would be wise to listen to their opinions. Working with an advisor can vary from person to person because it is a personal bond that is fostered over the years. But it is important to always communicate your feelings and keep perspective of your own personal goals.

Where will your research take you next?

After graduation I plan on applying my critical thinking skills in an international volunteering effort or apply for fellowships to learn about science and technology policy in Washington D.C. Eventually I would like to join an engineering design firm and go into the consulting or venture capital industry.

Yan looking into a microscope in the optoelectronics and photonics lab

Yan's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the ECE graduate program

The stellar research infrastructure and world-class equipment ranging from growth, material characterization, fabrication and testing allows students and faculty to tackle very challenging and novel ideas.

Favorite course

227A semiconductor laser course is my favorite and not because it is taught by my advisor. I think the course is a good balance of the theoretical concepts that are taught in lecture and practical application that is laid out in the homework assignments. I still find myself reviewing the old homework when I hit certain problems in my research.

Experience with the screening exam and the qualifying exam

Screening exam: Get your hands on the Red review book. Myself and two other grad students (Shane Todd and Ridah Sabouni) put those together and it was a great help. You must study in a group (no more than 4-5) and get into the habit of solving problems in front of everyone on the chalkboard.

Qualifying exam: Start early by organizing your presentation and images. Also remember to talk to your advisor before (2-3 weeks) the exam date to just talk about the format and your ideas.

Describe your experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA)

I have both TA'ed courses and had the opportunity design and teach my own engineering design course. I found that it was a wonderful experience and great way to learn more about what you thought you knew. These opportunities are also key to developing communication and organizational skills.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

Having a significant other in my life has helped greatly with balancing what is important and helping me set priorities. I find that having deadlines, both long term and short term, really helps my productivity because it forces me to have a greater sense of time.

Social life and living in Santa Barbara

Living in SB is very expensive. However my partner and I were very lucky to have gotten into family housing where the rent is decent but the location is great. My social circle contains many friends from outside of the department which is a great way to help pull you out of your own research.

What do you do over summer break?

Everyone spends much of the summer attending to their respective projects (or traveling). For the past few summers I have mentored students from high school or community colleges to work in the lab. Although it does take up a lot of time, I really like the experience and the feeling of mentoring students interested in science and technology.

Advice to prospective graduate students

When I was a new, it was all too easy to spend a lot (too much) time in the lab. I think a lot of times new students feel that just being in the lab they are more productive or more dedicated than others. But graduate school is not a competition, if you treat it as such you won’t have a good time and others might not have such a good time around you either. I think it is also important to find friends out of the department. Other graduate students are learning just as much as you are during their time here and it will help make you a more well-rounded person to come to appreciate what others are learning.

Erica Lively - M.S. / Ph.D. Student in Electronics & Photonics

Erica in the Nanofabrication Facility Clean Room
  • Hometown: Twin Falls, Idaho
  • Bachelor's degree: B.S., Electrical Engineering, University of Idaho
  • Graduate Study Area: Electronics and Photonics
  • Group / Advisor: Optical Communications and Photonic Networks (OCPN) - Professor Dan Blumenthal
  • Research Interests: nanoscale patterned metals, nanofabrication, and lasers
  • Degree progress: writing Ph.D. thesis and defending in Fall 2010
  • Awards & honors: ECE Dissertation Fellowship, Center for Nanotechnology in Society Science Fellow Professional memberships: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Optical Society of America
  • Interesting aside about Erica: I am an active advisor for Kappa Kappa Gamma at UCSB

Favorite things about

  • ECE department: very collaborative, resources readily available, excellent staff, friendly and fun people
  • UCSB: great location, diversity of students
  • Santa Barbara: outdoor hobbies all year round, perfect size for a city, great restaurants and shopping, wine country close by

Erica and her research

  • Important Conferences attended: Optical Fiber Communications Conference and IEEE Lasers & Electro-Optics Society (LEOS) Annual Meeting
  • Most important publication to date: Novel Fabrication of Sub-Wavelength High Aspect Ratio Metal/Dielectric Gratings on InP Semiconductor Platforms
  • Dissertation title: Sub-wavelength Metal Gratings for Nano-cavity Lasers and Photonic Integrated Circuit Applications
  • Types of financial assistance received: Graduate Student Researcher (GSR), ECE Dissertation Fellowship, Center for Nanotechnology in Society Science Fellowship

Tell us about your research

Erica in lab

Advanced InP-based photonic integrated circuits are reaching a critical stage in the technological development process. As demands for bandwidth and capacity rapidly increase, the need to densely integrate more and more components onto a single chip also increases.

My work focuses on the incorporating sub-wavelength metal gratings into optical waveguides and cavities to create nano-scale mirrors and lasers. In order to realize these devices, I am using a semiconductor epitaxial structure with a high gain active region, as well as, dielectrics and high conductivity metals like silver. Because metal losses are high, these devices must have high field concentrations and small cavities. This leads to significantly smaller components than their counterparts fabricated using only semiconductors. The ability to use semiconductors, dielectrics, and metals together in a single platform generates enormous design flexibility for future photonic integrated circuits.

Why did you select UCSB and ECE in regards to your research?

I felt that it provided the unique combination of an abundance of resources and collaborative environment in the research area of photonic semiconductor devices. I could tell from my initial visit to UCSB how great the research possibilities were and I have been continually impressed by the expertise and resources available at UCSB.

What do you find particularly rewarding about your research?

Knowing that I am pushing the limits of novel device fabrication. Over the course of my research, I have become an expert at Electron Beam Lithography and have been able to make structures that were previously only theorized. It is exciting to know that I am working on a project that is in the very early stages of development and could potentially revolutionize photonic circuits as they exist today.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

The research group environment is such a great support system. The people in my research group have become my best collaborators and good friends. It is a unique environment that allows you to explore and learn in your field with people that have recently experienced the same questions and problems. My research group has been an invaluable asset to me during grad school. Working with an advisor is also a really great experience, but it is a relationship designed to help you accomplish a lot in your research. As long as you appreciate an advisor that will push you to do your best, it is a rewarding experience.

Describe your experience as a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)

I have been a GSR my entire time a UCSB. I spend most of my time doing research but also maintaining and training others on tools in our lab.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate with others

The environment at UCSB is unbelievable in such a great way. I work with other grad students in and outside of my group on a daily basis. Students are so willing to work together to help others with their research and everyone takes the responsibility of collaboration very seriously. In my experience, the faculty are also very willing to work with students advised by other professors and share resources. I have also been fortunate enough to be able to collaborate with researchers from other academic institutions and industry. The research that is done at UCSB is world-class so I have never struggled with getting people outside of UCSB to take an interest in my work.

Where will your research take you next (industry, government or academia)?

After I finish my Ph.D. at UCSB, I would like to pursue a career that combines research and science communication skills to interface between very technical R&D and potential customers or collaborators. I find academic research very rewarding but work better in the faster paced world of industry.

Erica in the Engineering Science Building

Erica's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the ECE graduate program

ECE has excellent professors, outstanding facilities and resources that allow students to acquire a depth and breadth of knowledge that you cannot find anywhere else.

Favorite course

ECE 220A. Learning about device fabrication for the first time and actually seeing a theoretical design materialize inspired me to pursue optical devices for my thesis.

Experience with the screening exam and the qualifying exam

The screening exam is by far the most intense and intimidating experience that I have had in my academic career. It does help prepare you for the rigors of defending your own work in the qualifying exam, which is much more relaxed and collaborative.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

I have had a great quality of life during my entire time as a grad student. UCSB professors are very understanding of the need to have a balanced life. They encourage you to have enjoyable free time because it makes you more productive during your research time. I am able to maintain friendships with grad students and working professionals, a great relationship with my long-term boyfriend that works for a local Santa Barbara company, and even daily walks with my adorable (but very mischievous) dog. Getting a Ph.D. is a lot of work, but I haven't struggled with maintaining balance throughout the process.

Social life and living in Santa Barbara

I definitely have a busy social life! I live in downtown SB on the Mesa and I love it. I really like to be close to nightlife, shopping, and restaurants. It's so nice to meet friends downtown or just be a quick walk from the grocery store. Also, living a little farther away from UCSB helps me to maintain some separation between work and home. It's really easy as a grad student to be thinking about work all of the time, but if you give yourself some time to enjoy other activities, you will be much more efficient and productive. Overall, I LOVE living in Santa Barbara! The weather is amazing. There is so much do all year round and there are so many great community events to take part in. I am definitely considering living in SB after I finish up my Ph.D.

What do you do over summer break?

My summers have been spent doing lot of different things. Traveling to conferences, lots of research at UCSB, and mentoring interns take up most of my time during the summer. Summer is usually a really productive time for me because classes aren't going on and there is more time to focus on research; however, there is definitely still time for BBQs, beach trips, and lots of golf.

Advice to prospective graduate students

Go to graduate school in a place that you would like to live and you will be much happier with the whole graduate school process. Also, take the time to find an advisor that matches your lifestyle and working habits. Your relationship with your advisor will be one of the most significant that you will have in graduate school - so take the decision seriously.