photos of calvin burkhardt headshot and in the cleanroom

Calvin Burkhardt – Class of 2021

In his own words – interviewed Senior Year (Winter 2021)

  • Hometown: Boulder, Colorado
  • Favorite ECE Course: Introduction to Fields and Waves (ECE 134) or Circuits and Electronics I (ECE 137A)
  • Senior Project: Ultra-Low Power Magnetic Levitation (Prof. Brewer’s Systems Synthesis Lab)
  • Student Organizations: Tau Beta Pi (The Engineering Honor Society), Rocket Propulsion Lab (RPL) at UCSB
  • Last Book Read: Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
  • Interesting aside about you: Ten years ago, I played baseball on ESPN in the Little League World Series Southwestern Regional Tournament

Calvin’s Favorite

  • Hobbies: Woodworking, Cooking, and Playing Video Games
  • Band: Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • TV Show: Sons of Anarchy or Breaking Bad
  • Movie: Rogue One
  • Book: Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins
  • Activity: Playing Sports or Working Out
  • Sport: Football
  • Geeky Possession: My “Authentic 100% Genuine Engineer” T-Shirt

Favorite things about

  • Electrical and Computer Engineering Department: The faculty and the curriculum. The professors each use different teaching methods which help students learn different ways to solve problems, and professors are also willing to adapt the way they teach throughout the quarter to accommodate all students. The faculty and advisors are also changing the curriculum year after year to optimize the courses offered. On top of that, the labs are very fun because they give students hands-on experience with tools that are found in professional labs.
  • UCSB: The collaborative/social environment. UCSB promotes collaboration by including many group projects in course curriculums. The UCSB dorm experience also encourages students to make friends outside of their major. Most of my core friend group has stuck together from the dorms, and many of us aren’t the same major.
  • Santa Barbara: The location. This is one of the only places in the world where you can see the ocean from your ECE lab. Santa Barbara has a great mix of mountain and water sports with its proximity to both.

Calvin and Electrical Engineering

Why EE as a major?: I grew up taking apart broken computers and electronics but never knew how circuit boards worked. Then, in 4th grade, I took a field trip to IBM and learned that electrical engineers get to design circuit boards. Ever since then, I have wanted to be an electrical engineer. From that field trip until now, all of my schoolwork has gone into becoming an engineer and my growing love for the field proves to me that I’m on the right path.

Why did you select UCSB's EE program?: UCSB typically holds a Spring Insight event for all of the admitted students to come and learn more about the degree programs before they make their college decisions. I went to my class’s Spring Insight and listened to a panel of ECE students talk about their experiences at UCSB. The students talked about all of the interesting projects they had worked on, including the UCSB Hyperloop which caught my attention. Then, when I got to UCSB, I met a lot of the younger students who worked on the Hyperloop team and started a club with them called Rocket Propulsion Lab at UCSB – where we intend to build a liquid oxygen/methane rocket.

How did you hear about UCSB's EE program?: I first found out about UCSB because my mom went here, and she had told me it was in a beautiful location. I looked into the school more and found out they had a wonderful EE program, so I decided to apply.

Prospective students and parents often ask, what can you do with an EE degree?: EE is a very versatile degree. The most common path for EEs after their degree is to go into industry and apply what they have learned to real-world problems involving electronics and computing. However, an EE degree also opens the door to many other fields like materials, computer science, physics, chemistry, etc. The most important thing you learn through an EE degree is how to take a complex problem and break it down into something you understand. With this problem-solving skill, you can go on to become anything you want.

The Curriculum

What have you learned that has surprised you the most so far?: The most surprising thing that I have learned so far is the power of abstraction. In our introduction to circuits class (ECE 10A), I learned that the way engineers break down problems is through abstraction. For example, if I want to design a circuit that turns on an LED when I flip a switch, I don’t need to know what p-type and n-type semiconductors are. All I need to know is how the LED reacts to different currents and voltages, which is an abstracted model of what is happening in the LED. Once I learned how to break down problems in this way, ignoring the details that are unnecessary to solve it, I found myself being much more efficient and successful in my problem-solving.

What has your experience been like taking the Math and Physics core classes?: Math and Physics courses at UCSB are a lot of fun because you get to take them with students from other majors. I was lucky enough to take AP Calculus BC, Calculus D, and AP Physics C in high school, which covered most of the material in Math 3A/B, Math 6A/B, and Physics 1-4. Unfortunately, I could only waive Math 3A/B from my curriculum, but “retaking” the other classes gave me a chance to master the fundamentals. Since these classes build upon themselves as you go, it’s very important to nail down the fundamentals so you can focus on the harder material as it comes. I recommend taking as many math and physics classes in high school as you can, then it’ll become second nature by the time you need to apply the material in later ECE classes.

What has been your most challenging but rewarding course?: The most challenging but rewarding course by far was Semiconductor Devices (ECE 132). The content for this class is based on the quantum physics learned in Physics 5 the quarter before, so the basics were not yet intuitive to me. On top of the challenging material, it was also taught by a professor who is known for teaching tough classes, and it was his first time teaching the course, so he was figuring out how challenging the homework and tests should be as we progressed through the quarter.

To overcome these challenges, I spent many hours struggling through the problems on my own. In doing so, I greatly improved my fundamentals, even if I didn’t end up with the correct answer for the homework problem. This helped prepare me for the tests by giving me intuition on the material. I ended up getting an A+ in the class, and semiconductor physics has become one of my best subjects.

Are there any specific classes that you are looking forward to?: I’m looking forward to Integrated Circuit (IC) Design and Fabrication (ECE 120A). I’m very excited to get experience in the cleanroom and learn more about integrated circuit processing. The class offers hands-on experience with world-class tools for silicon fabrication.

Talk about your Capstone (188ABC) experience so far: Capstone has been a great experience so far. We’re working on a testing platform for very low power magnetic levitation with Professor Brewer. To reduce the power compared to other models of magnetic levitation, we’re utilizing the magnetic fields of permanent magnets and improving the control system to provide stability in the system at a lower power.

What area do you want to specialize in?: I want to specialize in electronics and photonics. I enjoyed my classes in circuit design (ECE 137A/B), semiconductor physics (ECE 132), and electricity and magnetism (ECE 134), so I would like to learn how to apply that knowledge to integrated circuit design.

Have you done an internship?: For the last two summers, I was generously hired at Raytheon Technologies here in Goleta. I worked as a firmware engineering intern and got to learn about firmware development for infrared cameras.

Preparation from High School to College

What prepared you the most for studying engineering in college?: Taking a lot of AP classes was very beneficial for being prepared for college, especially AP Physics C and AP Calculus BC. I also took all of the “engineering” classes my high school offered, including Design Technology, a modernized version of woodshop that utilized 3D printers and laser cutters to allow us to make pretty much anything.

Also, just being curious about how things work goes a long way in learning to be an engineer. When I was little, my parents would call me “Destructo-Boy” because I would tear things apart when they broke and try to figure out what went wrong. This pattern continued through middle/high school as I started the restoration of a 1973 Fiat convertible at home. To this day, it still sits in my dad’s garage in hundreds of pieces. Eventually, I’ll get back around to it.

Are there any classes that you suggest ECE students take before entering UCSB?: Try to start early to get into higher-level math and science classes in high school because it will only help you down the line. AP Physics C (both Mechanics and Electricity/Magnetism), AP Chemistry, AP Computer Science, and AP Calculus BC will all help out a lot with the entry-level courses. Coming in with those four under your belt will put you in a higher-level math class and give you a head start in physics, chemistry, and programming. Even though AP physics and chemistry do not replace UCSB physics and chemistry core courses, you will still greatly benefit from seeing the material twice and gain a much better understanding.

Any additional experiences that you would like to share with students to help them prepare for college?: Take as many APs as you can comfortably handle – they will pay off. Even if they are for non-STEM classes, they still count for general education credits and will unlock more room in your schedule for free electives (or just fewer courses when the intense ECE courses kick in).

Also, “you can’t spell dweeb without EE” (Prof. York in ECE 134), so don’t be afraid to be one. Play with Legos, enjoy physics tests, tinker with electronics, and have fun!

Student Life at UCSB

What is campus life like for EE students?: Campus life for EE students includes a lot of time spent in and around Harold Frank Hall (HFH) and the Computer Science Instructional Lab (CSIL). Most of your labs will take place here, and as the years go on, you will spend more and more hours working on labs until early the next morning. There is plenty going on outside of the lab too. Fun things like intramural sports, paddleboarding, and hanging out at The Arbor cafe and store will also fill your days if you make room for them.

What is the social scene like on campus, in Isla Vista and off-campus like for ECE students?: The social scene is what you make of it. You will spend many hours working on labs which can turn into late-night hangouts in the lab with other groups struggling through projects, but there will be downtime as well that you can choose what to do with. Most free time comes early in the quarter before projects and tests kick in, so definitely appreciate it while you have it. I recommend finding students outside of your major, too. Even though they do not care about your op-amp design or semiconductor physics midterm, they are still fun to hang out with.

Describe your housing experience frosh to present: Freshman year, I lived in Santa Rosa, which was the most fun year in terms of housing because I got to live with hundreds of people in the same situation as me. If you are up at three in the morning working on that procrastinated essay for your general education class, someone else will likely be doing the same thing as you across the lounge. Sophomore year, I moved with four of my best friends from the dorms into Isla Vista. I enjoyed the freedom of living on my own and appreciated the fact that I got to choose my roommates a little more carefully than in the dorms. Be careful about where you live because you might end up living on a very busy corner as we did, and Isla Vista can get wild at night. For my Junior and Senior years, I have lived with my girlfriend which has been a lot of fun as well. We live out toward the far side of Isla Vista which stays a bit quieter, but if you do move out here, you will learn to minimize bike rides to and from Harold Frank Hall.

After Graduation

What are your “big picture” plans/aspirations after graduation?: After graduation, I plan to attend graduate school and pursue a Ph.D., most likely in integrated circuit design for high-frequency or mixed-signal applications. Last quarter, I applied all over the country, and I am awaiting admissions decisions before I choose my next step. From there, I hope to become a circuit designer in industry and/or perform cutting-edge research and teach the next generation as a professor of electrical engineering. I’m very happy with my choice in coming to UCSB to start my career in engineering.