Undergraduate Student Spotlights

Christopher Maddux, Senior - Class of 2017

photo of Christopher Maddux
  • Hometown: Goleta, CA
  • Favorite Class: Cannot decide between Introduction to Fields and Waves (ECE 134) and Circuits and Electronics I & II (ECE 137A/B)
  • Interesting aside about Christopher: I was home-schooled, am a transfer student to UCSB from Santa Barbara City College, and both my parents graduated from UCSB (one as an EE)

Favorite things about

  • Electrical Engineering program: The professors are all outstanding.  In addition to being researchers in advanced fields, many of them are also excellent teachers in the classroom, a truly valuable asset. 
  • UCSB: There are sweeping views to be had from multiple locations on campus, particularly if one goes to the upper floors of our various taller or well-placed buildings, such as Engr I, Phelps Hall, and the library.  When in the depths of study time, being able to stay in labs or study areas in these or similar locations can be quite uplifting. 
  • Santa Barbara: This area, and particularly the city of Santa Barbara itself, has plenty of history.  As a result, there is always something different to discover about it, whether one was looking for it or not.  The fact that Goleta and Santa Barbara are located in the middle of an essentially rural area is also a plus. 

Why Christopher chose UCSB's Electrical Engineering program

To begin with, I was really only ever interested in attending UCSB or Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo.  I knew that both colleges have high reputations for academic excellence in engineering, but in addition, I suppose this preference had as much to do with location as with other factors such as distance from home, the financial cost of going further afield, etc.  One deciding factor was the fact that I attended Santa Barbara City College (they provide great formation in STEM, by the way), and there is an understanding between them and UCSB with regards to transferring in.

How did you hear about the program?

I knew about it because my father went through the program himself.  Otherwise, it does not seem to be widely discussed here in town, at least not in mainstream circles. 

Why Electrical Engineering?

I knew I wanted to build and/or design stuff for a living from early on, but I was interested in so many general topics to be able to make a decision on what to pursue as a major.  EE was always there as an option, however, because I received a bit of exposure to it from my father, and I think this must be what ultimately drove my decision.  I had narrowed it down to engineering by the time I started as a freshman at SBCC, but it was not until I took and enjoyed Multivariable Calculus and sophomore-level Electricity and Magnetism, both of which are key components of this level of training, that I made the final decision to pursue EE.

Advice Christopher gives to students/parents about applying to UCSB


Students: To begin with, I would actually recommend that, if you are able, to begin at SBCC or another highly-rated junior college (anyone can obtain admission to these colleges).  If you can do well in that environment, then you are a more desirable candidate for admission to a university.  In addition, it is often possible to obtain a more thorough grounding in freshman and sophomore topics at such schools (these schools must meet the standards of multiple colleges and universities).

This route is not for everyone: there is a risk that, if you do not do well, you will not be able to enter the college of your choice.  In this case, it is best to apply to UCSB as a freshman: as long as you performed well in your Calculus and Physics classes in high school and maintained a good GPA (if you have a 4.0 or higher, then you do not need to worry), you should stand a very good chance of being admitted.  There is competition to get in, of course, but it is not that bad if you have already been doing your absolute best in high school to get ready for college.  An additional plus is if you have completed a small student-oriented internship or done some experimenting with circuits or programming projects.  It does not need to be fancy, it simply needs to have genuinely improved your understanding and given you exposure to the existence of the more advanced topics that you will meet in the future.

With regards to the application itself, do ask others, such as your parents and trusted, well-known teachers, to review your personal statement.  Typically, they know you through the perspectives of insiders and outsiders at the same time: the insider perspective helps them know whether your statement upholds your qualities and interests, while the outsider perspective tells them how the university will see your statement.

Parents: Since both my parents had already gone through UCSB, it is a little harder to answer this question, as they knew what had to be done. However, there are still a couple of things that can be brought up.  As per the student advice above about the application, please take an interest in the process of writing the personal statement.  Also, regarding preparation, if you know that your son/daughter is interested in engineering, try and figure out what classes/programs are available through the high school or even a local junior college that would give them an extra boost.  These are assets when it comes to applying to an engineering school with UCSB’s high reputation.  Sometimes students themselves do not know how to find out about such opportunities, simply because this is their first time going through the process.

photo of Christopher Maddux

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

One item of concern was the fact that enrollment in engineering at UCSB has overall declined over the years, and so there was some concern on my parents’ part that the EE department may have suffered a decline in quality as a result.  However, the department remains healthy so far, and we hope that it will continue to live and grow. 

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

There are many opportunities.  I have come across professors (either M.S. or PhD) who graduated as electrical engineers, worked as such for a few years, and then used the abilities they learned to transition to being computer scientists, where they used their unique perspective on programming and their knowledge of hardware or controls to succeed.  For those who want to stay in the field, it is possible to find work with many companies that you might not expect would hire EE’s (software companies, for example).  If you want to get an idea of the scope of the impact of EE’s, just look around, in person or on the Internet.  Notice the consumer electronics in an average home; the equipment needed by the military; the machinery in a modern factory; the power grid; robotics; space missions (communication satellites are launched all the time); the aviation industry.  All of these areas, and many more, that touch our lives at some point or another involve the work of electrical engineers.



The Curriculum

  • What have you learned that has surprised you the most so far? For me, it had to be coming to the realization (during sophomore physics, I think) that inductance and capacitance are intrinsic physical properties, and not just effects that are introduced through discrete components.
  • What has your experience been like taking the Math & Physics core classes? I took these classes at SBCC, so the experience is not quite the same. For general advice, please realize that everything that you are taught in these classes is part of the curriculum because you will see it later. Do not make the mistake of assuming, because a particular math or physics topic is boring or extra hard, that you will not see it again.
  • What was your most challenging but rewarding course and how did you overcome it? I have a few close runners-up, but I think ECE 139 (Probability and Statistics) takes first place. It is a demanding class, with a great deal of material packed into the short quarter, all of which is, I am told, going to return later in communications classes. It is probably correct to say that many students did not enjoy their first exposure to probability in high school, including myself, and as this is an advanced version of that subject, so that gave 139 a daunting aspect up-front. To get through that class, I do not think I did anything besides what is usually recommended for a hard class: give it priority, always start working on the assignments early, study for a couple of days prior to the exams, and always direct questions about confusing concepts to either the professor himself or the TA’s. Another thing that helped with this class, and any other class, is to avoid having a negative attitude about it. In some cases, this cannot be helped for various reasons, but it is worth a try, because negativity will weaken your resolve to actually do well in the class and get something out of it.
  • Are there any specific classes that you are looking forward to? I am looking forward to the rest of the courses in the ECE 145 (Communication Electronics) and ECE 146 (Communication Systems) series as well as ECE 144 (Electromagnetic Fields and Waves) and ECE 158 (Digital Signal Processing). I have been waiting with anticipation for 145, as it concerns circuits and how they are designed to communicate. 144 is simply a continuation of a favorite topic of mine. 146 and 158 promise to demonstrate more theory regarding communications and signals, so that should be rather interesting.
  • What area do you want to specialize in? That is not completely determined at the moment. In senior year, I am focusing on circuits and communications/signals. I would be glad to take more circuits classes, but UCSB does not really offer any more above the 145 level, so work experience might have to fill in there. If I were to continue on to graduate school, I would be happy to take more electromagnetism classes, but my main focus would likely be on signals and stochastic processes.

High School Experience and College Search

  • Your high school mentor: My parents, which came naturally from being home-schooled. On the academic side, they were teachers and counselors rolled into one. It was a very good and interesting experience.
  • Favorite class in high school: That is a hard question. I actually liked most of my classes, but I think the general science classes stand out the most. These were responsible for giving me a broader view of science and technology, enabling me to determine what I found interesting.
  • Share what your college search was like: UCSB was my primary choice, and I was fortunate to get in rather easily. It is common wisdom that one should apply to many colleges, with no assurances that one will be accepted by the preferred campus. However, it would seem that, if one has a good academic record, then there is a far higher chance of success of being accepted right away by one’s desired college. This is not to say that one should become complacent about the application process and fail to apply to multiple colleges, but rather to indicate that, if one has already been doing really well in school, then there is no need to stress out over one’s chances.

Preparation for UCSB

  • What prepared you the most for studying engineering in college? Actually, home-schooling is what prepared me the most. Its environment taught me a solid work ethic and gave me a taste for continued learning, because by its very nature it showed that learning is a full-time (and a lifetime) task. There is a need to remain focused in college, and this kind of attitude is what is needed to see it through to the end. With the oftentimes heavy course-load, getting derailed is a terrible setback.
  • Are there any classes that you suggest EE students take before entering UCSB and why? Prospective students should definitely take whatever elective high school calculus, physics, and programming classes that they can. My high school calculus was the equivalent of Calculus I in college, so that was a plus. Programming in high school seems to be overlooked by some, but it should not be. When I took that class, I did not really “get” the underlying thought process of programming, but without it, I would have been lost in my intro class at SBCC. It enabled me to see the college-level class with a different perspective, and so I was able to advance more quickly than I otherwise would have. Get an early grounding in programming; being fluent in it is another means of staying afloat in college.
  • Are there any additional things that you would like to share with students to help them prepare for college? If you are not one of those people who understand new things in a flash, then you need to be prepared for the fact that in college you will need to spend a lot of time to master the material. Getting used to that now would be ideal, but it is hard to adjust to all at once. Perhaps finding a single truly challenging class for a quarter/semester/year could be the springboard to success here.

Student Life at UCSB

  • What is campus life like for electrical engineering students? Generally, it is about what you would expect on a college campus. EE is rather small here, so within your own year, it is possible to become familiar with most of your class. Besides that, free pizza is to be had often, there are a lot of technology talks and seminars, and there are computer lab resources available in several of the College of Engineering buildings. Also, there are a number of student organizations and groups that, because you are an engineering major, will try to recruit you for this or that. Do not feel pressured that you need to join any of them, but take your time and make a choice (or avoid all of them, if you do not believe you have the time at the moment; being a member of a good organization will not make up for poor grades).
  • What is the social scene like? If you are being attentive to your studies, then most of the time you are going to be very busy. Be prepared for the fact that you will not have a lot of free time, so pick your extracurricular activities carefully.
  • Describe your housing situation: Here, I can only speak from second-hand experience, both from speaking with other students and from the perspective of a long-time resident in Goleta (the city right next door). In short, you are probably better off not living in Isla Vista, both because it is stressful and distracting (it is not a great study environment), but also because the cost of housing, for what you can get, is not worth it.

Future Plans...

  • Have you done an internship? Yes, at Toyon Research in Goleta. I was primarily involved with support work for the team I was assigned to, including some lab time, when I assisted in and observed the characterization and the debugging of circuit boards. I was also given the opportunity to lay out my first RF PCB (printed circuit board), which I thought was quite a big deal in and of itself.
  • What are your " big picture" plans/aspirations after graduation? I would like to get a job locally, preferably doing work in circuits and systems. The specific field does not necessarily matter at the moment, but I am withholding judgment until after I complete more of my senior-level classes.
  • Do you plan to go into industry or graduate school? I will apply for graduate school, but I do not intend to stay in academia. Having an internship or a regular part-time job at the same time is my goal, so as to continue to learn the theory of EE offered by grad school and to build up skills in the practical world of industry.

Lorena Covarrubias, Senior - Class of 2016

photo of Lorena Covarrubias in the lab
  • Hometown: Oxnard, CA
  • Favorite Class: Circuits & Electronics I (ECE 137A)
  • Senior Project: FLIR Thermal Flashlight (ECE 188A/B/C)
  • Student Organization Memberships: Los Ingenieros, SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers), Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA), and MESA Engineering Program (MEP)
  • Last Book Read: Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande
  • Interesting aside about Lorena: I am the first and only one in my family to attend a four-year university

Lorena's favorites

  • Hobbies: running, hiking, being outdoors
  • Band / Performer: Arctic Monkeys
  • TV Show: Breaking Bad
  • Movie: Bridesmades

Favorite things about

  • UCSB: Everyone is always smiling and it is rare that you see anyone that looks sad or unhappy. There are positive vibes radiating throughout the whole campus. UCSB has definitely felt like a second home to me and a big portion of it is due to the people that attend the school.
  • Electrical Engineering program: The people. Overall, the students in ECE are some of the most helpful and enthusiastic people that I have met. The ECE community offers a welcoming and open-minded environment where we are all able to help each other out and mentor/tutor one another.
  • Santa Barbara: There is so much to do (zoo, kayaking, sunset cruises, and hiking trails) especially in downtown Santa Barbara. Overall, it is a beautiful place to live in.

Why Lorena chose UCSB Electrical Engineering program

I was originally a chemistry major, once I knew that I wanted to get into electrical engineering, I did some research and asked around. I found out that the advising for the ECE department was really helpful, so I contacted the ECE department and arranged to meet up with an advisor. Plus, the department met my high expectations. Although the transition from chemistry major to EE was really challenging, the department was very helpful throughout my whole process.

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

To find out more about the ECE program, I did a lot of research. The web pages in particular were a great resource especially because it has the GEAR handbook that includes all the required courses and schedules for all the different engineering majors. I also heard about the ECE program through the friends who were electrical engineers and they were able to point me in the direction of the correct advisors.

Why Electrical Engineering?

As I mentioned earlier, I applied to UCSB as a chemistry major, but once I was accepted I has realized that I wanted to go into engineering. I then had to narrow down what type of engineering I wanted to aim to get into and since I was originally a chemistry major, I figured that chemical engineering would be a good fit for me. However, I sat through an organic chemistry course and realized that I really did not enjoy chemistry at all. On the other hand, I was always intrigued by electricity and magnetism during high school physics. In addition, during my second general chemistry course, the main topic that interested me the most was the electrochemistry aspect of the course. This course is what really inspired me to go into electrical engineering because we were introduced to basic electricity principles plus I really enjoyed working out these problems and working on these labs.

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

With a degree in ECE, the opportunities are endless. There are a couple of my friends who are pursuing their master's and some even their Ph.D.s because they want to do research. Students can also go to work in industry in various sectors such as aerospace and defense, wireless communications, and medical devices. Furthermore, regardless if the student is in Computer Engineer or Electrical Engineering, they can choose if they want to go more on the hardware or the software side.

Advice Lorene gives to students/parents about applying to UCSB

  • Student Advice: It is important for students to do their research prior to coming to UCSB. It is always good to look into the different majors that UCSB offers as well as different programs, research opportunities, and different clubs and sports to join. I also recommend that prior to coming to UCSB, students get in contact with an advisor and ask any questions so that they are prepared for their first quarter at UCSB.
  • Parent Advice: My biggest advice if for students to keep their parents connected and updated with all of their college choices regarding their education. I also advise parents to understand that engineering is rigorous and difficult and the best help that they can offer their children is support and understanding.
photo of L. Covarrubias

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

I do wish that my parents knew how rigorous EE is and for them to understand how difficult it is so that they could have been a bit more supportive throughout the whole transition process.

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

It is important to take advantage of all of the opportunities that campus organizations offer engineering students. It surprised me to find out how networking and connecting with the right people can really go a long way. From the start, taking advantage of the engineering organizations on campus can help obtain research and internship opportunities. Oftentimes there are alumni who were once members of the organizations and reach out specifically to students to help them network with companies where they have previously worked.

What has your experience been like taking the Math and Physics core classes?

My experience in taking the classes was not bad mainly because I had taken AP calculus and AP physics in high school and because of the amazing and free CLAS (Campus Learning Assistance Services) tutors that UCSB offers. Although there were stressful times, I always found myself with my study group in my tutor’s office hours.

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

The infamous ECE 137A (Circuits & Electronics) which is the first course where we got to learn and apply traditional circuit design theories. It was challenging because the lab projects were rigorous and required a lot of time and effort; however, by effectively collaborating with one another and constantly helping each other out, my classmates and I were able to overcome the course.

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

Communication Electronics III (ECE 145C) because it can prepare me for what I want to specialize in. The course is a continuation of a communication electronics series that focuses on modern wireless communication standards.

What area do you want to specialize in?

I would like to specialize in RF because it is one of the fields that I could really see myself enjoying and be excited about. I am intrigued by the various applications of this field and would want to specialize specifically in the circuit design aspect of it.

Have you done an internship?

I interned at ZPower, which is a small company that makes rechargeable batteries for hearing aids. I worked as an electronics engineer intern and performed ASIC and PCB silicon reliability testing as well as firmware validation for the company’s production charger. Aside from that, I also had my own project that involved me working quite a lot with hearing aids and developing and performing my own wireless streaming and current drain test procedures. I heard about this company through the 2015 Spring Career fair which was the spring quarter of my 3rd year. I talked to a recruiter and followed up with him via email. I was persistent throughout the process and my boss mentioned to me that my persistence and determination in obtaining the internship was one of the things he admired the most.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I will be working in the aerospace and defense industry at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, CA as an Electronics Engineer Associate. Although I am not planning on going to graduate school directly after graduating, I do intend on pursuing my master's degree in RF within the next four years. I want to obtain industry experience before I get my master's so that I can ensure that I get my master's in a field that I truly enjoy.

High School Experiences

  • Your high school mentor: My chemistry teacher. I was very fond of her because she'd always go above and beyond to make sure that we actually mastered the topics. I enjoyed talking to her because she was always so willing to answer any questions regarding her college experience and she also guided me into taking certain classes in high school that would prepare me for college. Furthermore, when it was my senior year, she also helped me in choose UCSB as a school to attend. She was a UCSB alumn so she was able to openly tell me all about her experience at UCSB.
  • Favorite class in high school: I had two favorite courses in high school, chemistry and physics. One of the reasons why I really enjoyed chemistry may have been because my teacher was so passionate when teaching it. What I enjoyed about physics the most was the whole problem solving aspect of it and the idea that everything around us revolves around physics principles and the calculus aspect of it since I had enjoyed math throughout high school.
  • Share what your college search was like: My college search was interesting because at first, UCSB was at the bottom of the list of colleges that I wanted to attend to since I would always come here for high school fieldtrips. I applied to all of the UCs and got into all of them. In order to narrow down where I wanted to attend, I visited some of the colleges that I was mostly interested in but none of them felt like they were right for me. After I realized that I did not want to attend the other UC’s, I visited UCSB again and fell in love with the vibes and atmosphere – I felt like I would be at home here.

Preparation for UCSB

  • What prepared you the most for studying engineering in college?

    The study habits that I had in high school were the ones that prepared me the most for college. I was part of extracurricular activities in high school, so I figured out how to time manage and planned when I would work on homework and study. I also made it my priority to finish all of my homework as soon as I could to prevent procrastination.

  • Are there any classes that you suggest EE students take before entering UCSB and why? I definitely recommend that ECE students take AP physics and AP calculus in high school as well as many AP classes. Taking AP physics and AP Chemistry prepared me for college physics and general college chemistry and passing AP calculus helped me test out of the first required math class. Passing AP history and Spanish courses also helped me test out of some of my general education courses. Overall, this left me room in my freshman year schedule to focus on more difficult courses.

Student Life at UCSB

  • What is campus life like for electrical engineering students? Campus life is pretty convenient for ECE students because the ECE department offers CSIL (computer science instructional lab) which is basically a place filled with cubicles with their own computers where ECE and CS students can do their work. This is especially helpful when working with other classmates or on group projects. CSIL is also convenient because it is where I met people from my classes and is where most of the students help each other out. There are also campus organizations and clubs that are geared for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) majors, which is also another form of stress relief because students get to take a quick study break and mingle with other STEM students.
  • What is the social scene like? As far as social scene goes, life in IV (Isla Vista) is pretty laid back. It is more of a place to go back to once all your school work is complete because it is a relaxing atmosphere to be in. IV is also pretty convenient place to live in because there are tons of places to eat and socialize with friends as well as various places to meet for study groups. Overall, the social scene on both campus and IV is a work hard play hard type of environment, although ECE seems as though it may be more of a work hard environment, we definitely do relax once in a while when all the labs and assignments are completed!
  • Describe your housing situation: During my freshman year, I lived in the FYRE floor (First Year Residential Experience floor) which is one of the on-campus dorms. Living on this floor really helped me feel at home. Since it was targeted for a first year experience, my RA (Resident Advisor) put on a lot of events to promote bonding with the other girls that lived on my floor. Living in an on-campus dorm during my freshman year was really beneficial because I was able to connect and meet friends through this environment as well as find classmates who I can study and do homework with. I recommend that for sophomore and the following years that students live off campus because it is less expensive to live off campus than it is to live in dorms.

Ryan Calloway, Junior – Class of 2017

photo of ryan calloway
  • Hometown: Pacoima, California
  • Favorite Class: Digital Design Principles (ECE 152A)
  • Student Organization Memberships: National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)
  • Last Book Read: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Interesting aside about Ryan: I can play the flute, alto saxophone, and bass drum

Ryan's favorites

  • Hobbies: Reading, Watching TV, Learning new programming languages
  • Band / Performer: J. Cole
  • TV Show: Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Arrow
  • Movie: All Marvel movies
  • Book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Activity: Hanging out with friends
  • Sport: Basketball
  • Geeky Possession: Arduino Yun

 

Favorite things about

  • UCSB: The fact that everyone can do their own thing. UCSB has a ton of clubs and organizations that appeal to a variety of interests. You are very likely to find people that share the same hobbies with you, or even discover new interests that you're passionate about.
  • Electrical Engineering program: One thing I really like about the ECE program here, besides the great faculty, is the sense of camaraderie you get with your classmates. If you're ever struggling with a concept, you can walk up to someone from class in CSIL (our computer lab) and ask them to help you out with it.
  • Santa Barbara: You can't talk about Santa Barbara without talking about the beach. Living so close to it is amazing, and it makes for some nice scenery when you're biking home or to class. Beyond the beach, Santa Barbara gives you a lot of places to explore: you can go hiking in the mountains, shop a little on State Street, or watch a movie in the Goleta Marketplace outdoor shopping center. There are a ton of options available to you.

Why Electrical Engineering?

I actually came to UCSB as an Undeclared major. I knew I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, and I spent my first four quarters on that pathway. During that time I took ECE 2A, and I fell in love with EE. Something about applying the material you learned in class in a lab really pulled me in. After my new found love of EE, the next logical step was to transfer into the major. Luckily the first year of classes for mechanical engineering and electrical engineering were pretty much the same, so I wasn't too far behind. Now, I can't see myself in any other major.

Why Ryan chose UCSB

I chose UCSB because I felt that it was the institution that could offer me the best education and experiences out of all the schools I was accepted to, and it is fairly close to my hometown so I can go home whenever I want. It also didn't hurt that my cousin was attending UCSB at the time, and her stories about her experiences made me feel that this school would be a good fit for me.

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

It wasn't until the end of my first year when I talked to the undergraduate advisor for ECE and got more information about it that I started having an interest in EE.

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

In this technology age that we live in now, a degree in electrical or computer engineering offers you a lot of opportunities. Even within EE, there are numerous fields of specialization like: communications, control systems, optics, signal and image processing, and many more.

Advice Ryan gives to students/parents about applying to UCSB

  • Student Advice: Don't overstress yourself when you are filling out the application or writing your personal statement. Also, as someone who had to switch from the College of Letters (CoLS) and Science into the College of Engineering (CoE), if you have any interest at all of being an engineer I recommend applying as an engineer even if you aren't totally sure. It's much easier to transfer from CoE to CoLS than vice versa.
  • Parent Advice: I would say be supportive of your kid regardless of their decision, but at the same time make sure they understand what the potential outcomes of their decision are. Also, I would strongly suggest you take your kid to Spring Insight because the event really shows off the atmosphere of UCSB to incoming freshmen.
image of ryan calloway

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

I would just want them to know that it's a great program and will expose me to many experiences and opportunities.

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

That you can represent magnetic flux flowing through a ferromagnetic core as a magnetic circuit. I think it's really cool how a complex process can be expressed in such a simple way.

What has your experience been like taking the Math & Physics core classes?

The math and science core classes were not bad. They were very interesting and I recommend dedicating a lot of time studying for them because everything you learn in these classes will come back in some way when you reach your major classes. I remember thinking "I'm never going to use Fourier series again," and wow was I wrong.

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

My most challenging class so far has been ECE 2C. That was a beast of a class and I remember getting frustrated with some of the homework and labs. I overcame it by spending extra time studying and asking questions during office hours. In the end, I had gained a much deeper understanding of circuits and I'm glad I got through it because it made me a better student.

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

I'm looking forward to Circuits and Electronics (ECE 137A) because I have heard the labs are pretty intense from some of my older friends and I'm excited to see what all the hype is about.

What area do you want to specialize in?

I haven't solidified an area of specialization yet, but I'm choosing between controls, signals, and nanotechnology. My ultimate goal is to work for an aerospace company to help design parts of space ships, and I think that specializing in any of those fields will help me reach that goal.

Have you done an internship?

I have not had an internship yet, but I am in the process of searching for one. I know that a good way to get your foot in the door is by networking at events like career fairs or conferences. Also, it doesn't hurt to have a strong resume.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

After I get my Bachelor's degree, I plan to continue on to get my Masters degree in Electrical Engineering through the 5-year BS/MS program here at UCSB. Then, I hope to work for an aerospace company, because I've always wanted to make something that will go into space.

High School Experiences

  • Your high school mentor: My 9th grade science teacher Mrs. Montague was my HS mentor. She always pushed me to do my best and she encouraged me to take Chemistry a year earlier than I planned to, which enabled me to take AP Chemistry and AP Physics.
  • Favorite class in high school: My favorite class in high school was AP Physics. I enjoyed it because it introduced a new way of problem solving and thinking to me, and I still use what I learned then today.
  • Share what your college search was like: My college search process wasn't too stressful because I knew I wanted to stay in California and I didn't want to be too far away from home.

Preparation for UCSB

  • What prepared you the most for studying engineering in college? Besides my math and science courses in high school, being on the football team prepared me for studying engineering. Having practice everyday until 6pm and then having to commute for an hour to get home taught me how to best manage my time. Those time management skills are crucial to being an engineering student with homework deadlines, lab deadlines, extracurriculars, and work. Another thing that helped me was having a super supportive family that always made sure I stayed on track.
  • Are there any classes that you suggest EE students take before entering UCSB and why? I recommend taking AP Calculus C because you get to skip a couple math classes when you get here if you pass the test. Also, if you're lucky enough to go to a high school with a computer science class, definitely take that because it will prepare you for the CS classes you have to take when you get here.
  • Are there any additional things that you would like to share with students to help them prepare for college? Last year I was the resource chair for the NSBE chapter here on campus, and this year I'm co-president. When I came to college I never thought that I would be the chair of anything, let alone the president. College offers you a lot of opportunities to step out of your comfort zone, and in my experience it has been very beneficial to accept these challenges. Taking the resource chair position set me up to be co-president, so I recommend having an open mind and trying new things, because you never know where they may lead you.

Student Life at UCSB

  • What is the social scene like for electrical engineering students? With all of the student organizations on campus there is always some kind of event happening, and there is always fun to be had in IV. Being an electrical engineer doesn't mean you do not get to have a social life. Sure there are the occasional late night lab sessions, but with the right time management skills you can have the same amount of fun as everyone else.
  • Describe your housing situation: My freshman year I lived in the Anacapa dorms and met a lot of really great people. It was also really convenient because all of the first year engineering classes are close to Anacapa. I definitely recommend staying in dorms your first year if you are able to. After my freshman year I moved into Isla Vista. Living in IV made me more responsible, as I had to feed myself (I'm still missing the dining commons), and be more frugal with my money.

Alex Nguyen-Le, Junior - Class of 2017

photo of Alex Nguyen-Le
  • Hometown: Fremont, CA
  • Favorite Class: Circuits, Devices, & Systems (ECE 2C)
  • Student Organization Memberships: Alpha Omega Campus Ministry, Tau Beta Pi
  • Last book read: Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead
  • Interesting aside about Alex: I hate mushrooms

Alex's favorites

  • Hobbies: Reading, Cooking, Photography
  • Band / Performer: Maroon 5
  • TV Show: House MD
  • Movie: Forest Gump
  • Book: East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • Activity: Listening and learning
  • Sport: Ultimate
  • Geeky Possession: CRT Oscilloscope

Favorite things about

  • UCSB: The vibe of the Campus and Isla Vista community is awesome! Walking through different parts of campus and through each of the departmental spaces gets you a sense of what each department or lab is passionate about. Isla Vista is the same way: you can see firsthand the diversity of experiences and lifestyles amongst the UCSB community, and the environment of the UCSB neighborhood really feels unified even if you don't know all of your neighbors.
  • Electrical Engineering program: The faculty here are not just experts in their respective fields, but each have an understanding of what they teach which is personal to them. In lecture, it can sometimes be difficult to follow the accuracy and precision at which your professors discuss the concepts, but when you have a deep understanding of what they're trying to teach you, the words your professors use often come back and stick with you. Many of the faculty also seem to be really passionate about teaching, and not only try to get you to through their class but also explain the relevance of what you're learning and how concepts might be useful beyond solving book problems.
  • Santa Barbara: The weather and the presence of rural, suburban, and urban spaces all within close proximity. It's usually really nice outside, making it perfect for going on a hike, walk downtown, or plan a little get-together with friends.

Why Alex chose UCSB

I chose UCSB because its engineering program had the best reputation of the schools I got accepted into. UCSB is also located in a setting completely different from my home town and it was pretty exciting for me to think about living in a beach town as compared to suburbia, and in an environment that's filled almost exclusively with college students rather than families and older professionals.

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

I heard about UCSB's electrical engineering program whilst researching colleges and from a college counselor at my high school that recommended UCSB to me. After looking up the program (among several others), I read enough about it that I liked and applied.

Why Electrical Engineering?

I chose electrical engineering because it's what I was raised on, and from an early age, my parents had given me a lot of exposure to exactly what it is and why it's something cool to study. I was lucky enough not to hate it by the time I started applying for colleges, and got in as an Electrical Engineering student and it just stuck.

Why did you select UCSB's Electrical Engineering program?

I selected UCSB's EE program because UCSB was a pretty good engineering school (from what I had heard), and the environment of UCSB seemed like something I could fit into.

Advice Alex gives to students/parents about applying to UCSB

  • Student Advice: As a student at UCSB, you're going to be exposed to whatever you wish to be exposed to. It can only be beneficial for you to try things you're passionate about, or learn things that you've always been curious about. UCSB has so much to offer, and it's pretty much an impossibility for you to find other people that are not interested in the same things you're interested in!
  • Parent Advice: For the parents of prospective UCSB students, I'd recommend not letting UCSB's reputation detract you from UCSB's mission as an institution of education. People can find whatever they want to find in college, regardless of what school they attend, and it's pretty important to trust your children to make responsible decisions for their own sake.

Explain to students and parents what you can do with an Electrical & Computer Engineering degree

EE and CE are pretty much the backbone of almost everything that exists today. This means you can do almost anything you want with an ECE degree, including things that don't seem like stereotypical ECE disciplines. This means in addition to traditional ECE topics, like wireless communication, computer architecture, or semiconductor device design that you typically associate with EE, you also can have things like biomedical device design, polymer/materials chemistry (battery technology), and photonics.

photo of Alex Nguyen-Le

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

EE is a difficult major, and the things that may have worked for my parents to overcome adversity in their own lives might not necessarily work for me. I'm grateful for what my parents have done for me in the past, and believe that success in school and life require that I learn to develop my own passions and problem solving strategies rather than completely relying on the advice of others..

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

Fourier transforms are pretty cool. Apparently, you can represent discontinuous periodic signals with sines and cosines.

What has your experience been like taking the Math & Physics core classes?

Math classes were easy for me, but the physics courses were not. The opposite was true for many of my friends. Don't give up if you feel like you don't get it in lecture, very few people do! It's the time outside of lecture that counts!

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

My most challenging course in the ECE department was probably Probability & Statistics (ECE 139). Reading the textbook and getting a million different interpretations of the same thing was what really made some of the stuff click for me. Office hours were a must as well.

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

I'm looking forward to ECE141 (MEMS). There's just something mystical and cool about things you can't see with your eyes having a effect you can measure when you put them all together and analyze them at a large scale. At smaller scales, all of these effects can change, and your models break down because your assumptions lose validity. Learning to engineer around these effects, or even better, exploit them for your design sounds insanely cool and has applications you read about in pop-sci articles and see in sci-fi movies!

What area do you want to specialize in?

I want to specialize in signal processing and its applications because I like the mathematics behind it. Abstracting away the nitty-gritty implementation details of a system and boiling them down to math equations is crazy cool, especially when your model reveals unexpected details about the behavior of your system. Furthermore, the math and theory behind signal processing can be used to describe systems in an intuitive way, even in disciplines that don’t seem to have any types of electrical signaling. An example of this is using block-diagrams and representations to describe the effect of chemical signals in living organisms, and signal processing just seems like an awesome way to use mathematics to do more than just solve book problems.

Have you had any on-campus research opportunities at UCSB?

I currently work in Dr. Luke Theogarajan's Biomimetic Lab. I haven't been there too long, but have learned many practical skills in addition to the real world applications of concepts I had learned in digital and analog design. The project I worked on involved creating and testing a chip much smaller than the size of your pinky! I learned things about engineering beyond the models you're taught in class, and it kind of gave me some intuition behind what designers consider when constructing devices in the real world.

Have you done an internship?

My internship is the same place I participate in undergrad research — Dr. Luke Theogarajan's Biomimetic Lab. I got the internship by working hard in class, showing up to office hours, and proving that I was committed to working in that laboratory.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I plan on going into graduate school in the field of Bioengineering. I've always admired bio-inspired design and would love to turn it into a career!

High School Experiences

  • Favorite class in high school: My favorite class in high school was probably my math classes because they taught me not only how to approach and solve problems, but how to describe the world using a language that can keep track of things for you upon you fleshing them out. It’s crazy awesome that negative signs, directions, and units are managed for you when you express something in math properly!
  • Share what your college search was like: Searching for colleges was fun but also really stressful. Since application fees were so expensive, it was a scary thing to decide which schools to forgo sending in applications. Once I think I had a plan and sent in that last application, I felt really relieved and made the most of my senior year of high school!

Preparation for UCSB

  • What prepared you the most for studying engineering in college? AP classes and falling flat on my face over some of the hard concepts really prepared me for college. You can feel really stupid in some classes you take in high school, and in college, you can feel really stupid all the time. Getting used to not understanding and knowing things the first time I heard them really prepared me for college.
  • Are there any classes that you suggest EE students take before entering UCSB and why? Take AP Comp Science and AP Calculus and AP Physics! That way, your first year will be partial review rather than completely new material.

Student Life at UCSB

  • What is the social scene like for electrical engineering students? The social scene on campus is largely driven by clubs and other organizations that spend time to throw events. The social scene off campus is largely driven by friends to throw similar events. Obviously, the motivations behind campus thrown events and off-campus events is different, but you'll generally find what you're looking for, even if you barely put in any effort.
  • Describe your housing situation: 

    On campus dorms were really fun and a great way to start off college, I'd highly recommend living in them if you can afford it. Isla Vista housing requires that you're responsible with your time, commitments, and money making them a great way to get used to the real world. I'd recommend living on campus until you feel comfortable to move into IV. Some would rather skip the on campus housing altogether, while others stay on campus all four years.

Vishaal Varahamurthy, Junior - Class of 2016

photo of vishaal Varahamurthy
  • Hometown: Camarillo, CA
  • Favorite Class: ECE 132 — Introduction to Solid State Electronic Devices
  • Student Organization Memberships: Ask a Scientist, Advancing Hispanics, Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Engineering Student Council, Tau Beta Pi
  • Interesting aside about Vishaal: I absolutely love learning languages and would probably be a linguistics major if science wasn’t so cool

Vishaal's favorites

  • Hobbies: guitar, brewing coffee, planet-watching
  • Band / Performer: Green Day
  • TV Show: Breaking Bad, South Park, and Bob’s Burgers
  • Activity: traveling
  • Sport: basketball
  • Geeky Possession: compressed air motor I built in Introduction to Machine Shop (Mechanical Engineering 12S)

 

Favorite things about

  • UCSB: The perfect balance of work and play. I can't think of another place in the world where people have such an amazing work ethic combined with the ability to have such a great time, anytime.
  • Electrical Engineering program: The people — all of the students and faculty are the most interesting and quirky people I've had the chance to meet in my time as a Gaucho. I've become extremely close to my classmates as a result of fighting the beast that is third year, and have formed friendships that will last a lifetime.
  • Santa Barbara: The weather is amazing. If I don't go to grad school here, I'll have a really hard time leaving my spoiled SoCal life, taking atmospheric perfection for granted.

Why Vishaal chose UCSB

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do after high school, so UCSB was actually a pretty arbitrary decision for me, mostly based on financial aid. It wasn’t until I actually got here that I realized how much more this campus had to offer. I’m extremely grateful for UCSB having helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my education and my future.

Why Electrical Engineering?

I came in as a chemical engineering major, thinking that it would be a mixture of physics and chemistry, my two favorite subjects in high school. Going through my first year, I realized this was not the case. While at the end of my first year I still didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do, I did figure out exactly what I didn’t want to do.  I got into electronic materials research the summer before my second year and absolutely fell in love with it, solidifying my decision to enter a Materials PhD program after I graduate. Switching to ECE made things sort of fall into place, as UCSB's ECE program offers a great device-focused path full of amazing research opportunities to reach this goal.

Why did you select UCSB's Electrical Engineering program?

Realizing I wanted to leave chemical engineering didn't mean I wanted to leave UCSB. Staying here and continuing research was the best decision I've made!

Advice Vishaal gives to students/parents about applying to UCSB

  • Student Advice: When applying, don't worry too much about what you think the admissions office wants to hear, don't let rankings get to your head, and don't be intimidated by numbers like acceptance rates.
  • Parent Advice: If your child is admitted and you visit the campus for Spring Insight with them, let them ask their own questions and explore on their own. Please remember that this will be the next four years of their lives, not yours.

Explain to students and parents what you can do with an Electrical & Computer Engineering degree

You've probably heard already about the plethora of job opportunities, so I won't bore you with the same details. The research opportunities, however, are less spoken of but equally amazing! You can explore materials science, devices, signals, robotics, and more. ECE can be very interdisciplinary and using your degree to experience research outside of the field is not uncommon.

photo of vishaal varahamurthy

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

That it’s safer than most people think.

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

That quantum tunneling is a thing. But also, I am extremely surprised at how much UCSB has changed me. My last three years here have been a process of constant personal evolution and I did not expect my hobbies, interests, and the groups and people with which I identify to change so much, so quickly. I remember back in high school I spent ten hours a day playing video games – a hobby I considered an extremely important part of my life. Now I don’t even have the attention span for fifteen minutes of gaming unless I am with friends.

What has your experience been like taking the Math & Physics core classes?

They are a lot of work compared to AP classes in high school. At the time they seemed mundane and unrelated to my major, but I later learned they helped me form an extremely strong foundation that was invaluable for my upper division courses.

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

Semiconductor Device Processing (ECE 220A) was my most rewarding course, at the cost of an intense course load. Taking a graduate class alongside three upper division ECE courses was extremely difficult. However, I learned really cool clean room techniques, technical writing and data analysis methods crucial to a research-oriented career, and made some really good friends. Taking that class is also the reason I was able to get eye-scanner access to the UCSB Nanofabrication Facility, which makes me feel like a secret agent sometimes.

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

The ECE 162A/B/C series (Quantum Description of Electronic Materials, Fundamentals of Solid the State, and Optoelectronic Materials & Devices) has me really excited, as I haven't gotten to take an in-depth quantum class after the basic modern physics we learned in physics 5. I'm hoping to get a better materials background through this class, and I'm really excited to take a class by a professor who did his undergrad here. I am also looking forward to taking a year of Chinese and Russian!

What area do you want to specialize in?

I want to specialize in solid state electronic materials. I hope to contribute to energy efficiency by continuing research in the field.

Have you had any on-campus research opportunities at UCSB?

  • Summer Institute in Mathematics and Science (SIMS) / sponsored by the Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships (CSEP) - I participated in an extremely busy and fun two weeks of undergraduate research, a few classes, and team building/professional workshops that prepared me for college better than I could have imagined. I made some of my best friends at UCSB through this program, and it connected me to CSEP and served as a springboard for my future research gigs. I am extremely excited to be the program coordinator for SIMS 2015 and brainwash a new batch of incoming freshmen into loving research!
  • The Early Undergraduate Research and Knowledge Acquisition (EUREKA) program / sponsored by the Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships (CSEP) - I studied thermoelectric materials (materials that convert a temperature difference into an electrical potential, which allows for recovery of waste heat in electronics) in the Palmstrøm group. This was the research experience that prompted my switch to electrical engineering and my decision to go to grad school.
  • Cooperative International Science and Engineering Internships (CISEI) / sponsored by the UCSB Materials Research Laboratory (MRL) International Center for Materials Research (ICMR) - I was involved in chemistry research at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, studying the synthesis of nanoparticles that absorb infrared light and use an anti-Stokes shift to emit visible light for bioimaging applications. Doing research in such a new environment was a game-changer, and gave me insight to how researchers around the world work. Among the perks of research abroad was absolutely amazing food and a free flight to Japan on the way back, where I spent eighteen days exploring the country!
  • Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) / sponsored by the MRL and the College of Engineering - I was involved in RISE from January-June 2015, which gave me the opportunity to do research in the Nakamura/DenBaars groups in the Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center (SSLEEC). I currently work on optimizing contacts for gallium nitride lasers.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

Immediately after graduation I’d like to travel and enjoy my last summer before graduate school. In the long term, I don’t really see myself ever working for a company. I'd like to get a Ph.D. in materials science after I get my B.S. in electrical engineering, and possibly become a professor or pursue some other career that will allow me to do research for the rest of my life.

High School Experiences

  • Your high school mentor: My AP physics teacher and AP chemistry teacher both instilled in me a love for science, which turned into an obsession over the past three years.
  • Favorite class in high school: I loved my physics class mostly for the tangents we'd go on about space exploration and the fun little characters the teacher would come up with to explain concepts that ended up carrying me through my engineering physics series at UCSB. Thank you, Voltage Man.
  • Share what your college search was like: My college search was not too stressful or in depth. Since I really had no clue what I wanted to do, I applied to some UCs, and that's about it. I am extremely glad my narrow search landed me here.

Preparation for UCSB

  • What prepared you the most for studying engineering in college? AP classes gave me enough knowledge to get through my first few quarters of physics, math, and chemistry. However nothing prepared me for studying engineering in college more than studying engineering in college.
  • Are there any classes that you suggest EE students take before entering UCSB and why? AP Calculus BC and AP Physics are definitely two classes that ECE students should take before entering UCSB. By passing the AP Calculus BC test, you have the possibility of skipping 1 or 2 math classes when you come to school here. While the same does not apply for AP Physics, it still provides a strong foundation for the first few quarters of physics which tend to be challenging for those with no previous physics experience. High school computer science/programming courses could prove useful, too.
  • Are there any additional things that you would like to share with students to help them prepare for college? Firstly, take all advice with a grain of salt. What worked for someone else may not work for you, and what didn't work for someone else may work beautifully for you. An example is taking up a few jobs your first year. Some would say it's overwhelming, but it whipped my time management skills into shape and allowed me to pay my tuition and rent. Second, do not hesitate to ask for help! Studying engineering is extremely difficult, and collaboration is absolutely essential to succeed - the sooner you can work together with your peers, the better you will perform. Lastly, know your limits - it is important to know how much you can handle and to know when to give yourself a break and relax.

Student Life at UCSB

  • What is the social scene like for electrical engineering students? The social scene is what you make of it. I have been part of many different social circles, all focused on different, yet awesome aspects of life as a Gaucho. Life outside of school is no different for an ECE major than it is for anyone else and depends solely on each person. There is, however, a certain social scene that is unique to electrical engineering students – 137A/B lab. The delirious and sleep deprived days and nights spent in the lab among friends do actually make for some pretty fun memories.
  • Describe your housing situation: I’ve lived in Isla Vista since my first year as I was never able to afford the dorms. While UCSB is awesome, it is very expensive. I loved UCSB enough to work four jobs simultaneously throughout my first two years to pay for rent and tuition. My favorite street is Madrid Road, as it's quiet, close to campus and right in the heart of our little town, and there are always people with really interesting pets walking down the street (I once saw a guy walking a pig). While it would have been nice to experience the dorms, I wouldn’t have changed a thing and I am grateful to have had the unique experience of living in IV my first year.