COE Outstanding Faculty 2020

The UCSB College of Engineering 2020’s Outstanding ECE Faculty are Mark Rodwell (electrical engineering) and Yogananda Isukapalli (computer engineering)

Photos of Yogananda Isukapalli and Mark Rodwell - Outstanding Faculty Awards

This year the COE asked each faculty award recipient three questions, including what of wisdom they might have for the class of 2020:

Rodwell joined the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at UCSB in 1988. For nearly twenty years, he served as director of UCSB’s Nanofabrication Laboratory, a campus facility that annually serves roughly three hundred graduate students, and dozens of industrial partners and professors. As the Doluca Family Endowed Chair, Rodwell teaches several undergraduate core classes, including Circuits & Electronics I/II (ECE 137A/B), and Communication Electronics (ECE 145A). This year marks the second straight year and the sixth time overall that graduating seniors have selected him as the Outstanding Electrical Engineering Faculty Award winner. Additionally, over the years, Rodwell has been elected a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and he received the 2010 IEEE David Sarnoff Award for exceptional contributions to electronics. Rodwell’s research group works to extend the operation of electronics, such as semiconductor devices and communications systems, to the highest feasible frequencies. He directs the SRC/DARPA ComSenTer Wireless Research Center, which presently supports the research of 92 students. 
1. What does it mean to you to receive the outstanding faculty award from the Class of 2020?

It is satisfying to learn of the award, because it tells me that the students are learning the material, are enjoying it, and can see how the course will help them in their future careers.
2. How do you go about trying to positively impact your undergraduate students?
I try to have clear, simple, and readable lecture notes available online so that the students can have these in front of them during lectures. That way, they don't have to choose between listening carefully to understand and writing furiously to keep up. The class (classes) have a pretty intense design content, where the goal is to teach the students how to independently create their own design (versus just following instructions), build it, realize that it doesn't work, figure out why,  change it, test it again, and eventually make it work.  The business of inventing, building, failing, testing and fixing is the core business of being an engineer and is the focus of my courses.  The courses and the design projects tie in not only the core material of circuit design but also signal processing, communications, and feedback/control theory: the goal is to show the students that real work in electronics involves all these subjects. I am trying to show them, at the junior year, a little about how all of electrical engineering fits together.  
3. Because of COVID-19, the last quarter at UCSB has been anything but normal for you and the undergraduate Class of 2020. What uplifting message and words of wisdom do you have for them?
It is a tough time. We all know young people who have graduated college and can't find work. Some of us have already faced tragic losses. All of us are all worried about our friends and relatives, particularly those at high risk, including the ill, older parents and grandparents, and doctors and nurses we know.  Even young people are at risk, and I am scared for UCSB students, and for my son, my nieces, and my nephews. My generation had, until now, escaped such hardship, and has had fairly peaceful lives. Not so those before us: my wife's parents as very small children fled the invasion of the Philippines, and one uncle, in the army, was among those who freed a concentration camp. So, people we know have risen to much more serious challenges not so long ago.  We must prevail in this crisis through science, medicine, and intelligent public policy. Soon there will be yet harder work to be done. Worldwide industrialization and agriculture’s green revolution has, in my lifetime, dramatically reduced poverty worldwide even as population has soared. But, this progress has come with potentially catastrophic environmental damage.  We must address these through a commitment to science, engineering, and coordinated national and worldwide public policy. The next century, that of your generation, is critical.

For the second year in a row, graduating seniors have selected Isukapalli for the Outstanding Computer Engineering Faculty Award. Isukapalli joined UCSB’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department as a tenure-track teaching professor in winter 2017, after several years working as a staff scientist in the Wi-Fi division at Broadcom, a semiconductor manufacturing company. At UCSB, his primary role is running the undergraduate capstone program for computer engineering, which focuses on developing students into professionals by pairing them with industry or academic experts to create an engineered solution for real problems. This year, the topics of capstone projects ranged from blood sensors that detected coagulation, to an autonomous drone to keep elephants away from humans, and using cell-tower signal information to improve localization.
1. What does it mean to you to receive the outstanding faculty award from the Class of 2020?
The award has a lot of significance for me because it comes from graduating CE seniors. I have taught most of them in many of my classes, and I enjoyed seeing them mature as computer engineers. I am honored that they feel I have made an impact through my teaching.
2. How do you go about trying to positively impact your undergraduate students? 
I try to present concepts as clearly as possible and connect them to real-world examples. Students seem to enjoy this part of my teaching. Before joining UCSB, I designed Wi-Fi chips at Broadcom for about seven years, and I use that experience to connect theory with real-world applications. In my opinion, one-one interaction with instructors is an essential part of the undergraduate experience. So, I make myself accessible as much as possible. I have an open-door policy where students can drop in anytime beyond set office hours.
3. Because of COVID-19, the last quarter at UCSB has been anything but normal for you and the undergraduate Class of 2020. What uplifting message and words of wisdom do you have for them?
One of the classes I am teaching now involves graduating seniors designing a capstone project with significant hardware and software complexity. Students have to build a robust embedded system, anticipating many possible points of failure in both hardware and software. Apart from the technical aspect of the project, the students are also learning how to deal with uncertainty. When COVID-19 forced students to work remotely on a group project, they showed remarkable maturity and a collaborative spirit. I am proud of what they have achieved, and they should be too! Without getting too philosophical, there will be plenty of challenges ahead in life that are not under your control, but how you respond to them is. I am confident that the graduating CE students are ready to face new challenges using the technical and life skills they have learned at UCSB.

COE News – "CoE Announces 2020 Outstanding Faculty Award Winners" (full article)