First-Hand:My Very Biased History of the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Maryland, College Park

Contributor: Steven A. Tretter

A Very Biased History of the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Maryland, College Park

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This document presents my very biased view of the history of the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Maryland, College Park, by describing a variety of amusing incidents that have happened while I was a student here from September 1958 through June 1962 and then as a faculty member starting in September 1966 until now. Until about ten years ago, the department was called the Electrical Engineering Department with the abbreviation EE. This was the most common nomenclature at universities around the country.

The name was then changed to the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with the abbreviation ECE which has become common at other universities.

Dr. Ralph Myers' Physics Class

Disrespectful Students

In 1960, Engineering students normally took two semesters of Physics in their Sophomore year. My Spring semester Physics class was held in the Chemistry Building large lecture hall and there were, maybe, 200 students in the class. The instructor was Dr. Ralph Myers, a long-time Physics professor. Dr. Myers would stop to think and project "UUUUUUH" to the entire lecture hall while he was thinking. One day, about half way through the class, Dr. Myers said "UUUUUUUH" and there was an echo of "UUUUUUUH" by an anonymous student in the very back of the lecture hall. As several classes went by, the "UUUUUUH" echo came from more students. Finally, Dr. Myers slammed down his book and said something like, "Gentlemen, if I can call you that ... !" and walked out of the room. Boy did he kill us on the next exam!

The Student who asked Stupid Questions

There was a student who sat in the front row and continually raised his hand and asked obvious and stupid questions. This was particularly annoying because he was an EE student who's name I have long forgotten. As the semester went on, we all would groan every time his hand shot up. It seems almost every class has someone like this. One thing that seems to be traditional with Physics departments is that they have a good size staff to create and show very interesting demonstrations for their large introductory lecture classes. One day the demonstrations included a gas discharge oscillator with huge light bulbs, maybe a foot high. Another demonstration included a cylindrical electromagnet about four inches in diameter and a foot high. An iron ring fit over the magnet and when the current was turned on, the eddy currents in the ring caused it to rise of the magnet. This was a demonstration of forces caused by the interaction of current and magnetic fields. During that class, the annoying student asked an unusual number of stupid questions. When the bell rang for the end of class, he ran up to Dr. Myers to ask yet another question. I am sure Dr. Myers was also quite annoyed and thought about how to get even with this student. He asked this student to put the iron ring on the magnet and hold it there. Well, guess what happens when the current is turned on? When the ring cannot rise off the magnet, the eddy currents cause is to heat up like a stove element. Very soon this student let out a shout in pain and let go of the ring. The ring flew up into the air several feet and came down and smashed a couple of the large light bulbs! Dr. Myers must have hated our class.

Bill Hahn, The Instructor for My First EE Class

In 1960, the first EE course students took was EE 1 Basic Electrical Engineering. This course was taken in the Fall semester of a student's Junior year. EE courses were given once a year, so students who failed an EE course were set back an entire year. The textbook was Introductory Electrical Engineering, J. Wiley, 1957 by George F. Corcoran and Henry R. Reed. George Corcoran was the Department Head and Dr. Henry Reed was another EE professor and was in charge of the graduate program. In fact, George Corcoran was the Department Head for 25 or 30 years and retired around 1964.

William R. Hahn was my instructor for EE 1 in the Fall 1960 semester. He was a full-time Instructor working on his Ph.D. degree at the time. A couple of years later he became a full-time employee of the U.S. Naval Surface Weapons Center in White Oak, Maryland and continued to work on his Ph.D. part-time. Later Bill moved to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and after that to some Beltway bandit company in Virginia. Bill was an avid handball player and had bent little fingers caused by hitting the walls too often. He smoked a Sherlock Holmes kind of pipe and acted real cool.

Lab Instructor is No Longer Cool

Bill was also my Instructor for the lab portion of EE 100 Alternating Current Circuits. Many EE courses at that time were four credits with three credits for the regular in-class instructional part and one credit for the lab portion. Grades were based proportionately on our performance in both parts. The text for the in-class part was Alternating Current Circuits, J. Wiley, 1943 by Russell M. Kerchner and George F. Corcoran. Russell Kerchner was not a College Park faculty member. In the lab for EE 100, Bill Hahn carefully checked our circuits to make sure they were correct before we turned on the power. One experiment involved an autotransformer which was about ten inches tall with a six inch square base. After checking our circuit, Bill went to the power panel on the wall and flipped the switch on. Within seconds, clouds of white smoke started pouring out of the autotransformer. Bill quickly turned off the power and was very embarrassed to discover he had plugged the power cable into the DC rather than the AC outlet! We no longer thought he was so cool.

My First Ph.D. Graduate

After I graduated, completed my Ph.D. at Princeton University, spent nine months working at Hughes Aircraft Company in Culver City, California, and returned in September 1966 to teach as an Assistant Professor in the EE Department at the University of Maryland, Bill Hahn was still working on his Ph.D. His advisor was the Assistant Professor, Bob Ginnings, who had recently received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland EE Department and had also been an Instructor while working on his degree. Bob left to work at Hekemian Labs in Rockville, Md. a couple of years later and I became Bill Hahn's Ph.D. advisor. By the way, Norris Hekemian also got his Ph.D. from the our EE Department under Gordon Wagner who retired in 1976 and died in December 2005. Bill Hahn earned his Ph.D. a couple of years later. It is kind of ironic that the instructor for my first EE course became my first advisee to get his Ph.D.

George F. Corcoran

George F. Corcoran was the Electrical Engineering Department Head from some time in the early 1940's to around 1964 when he retired. Notice the word "Head" in his title. Sometime in the late 1960's or early 1970's, the title of the person who was in charge of a department was changed from Head to Chairman. The Head had significantly more authority than a Chairman. George Corcoran was very well liked by faculty, staff, and students. He died not too long after retiring from one of the progressive nervous system diseases. He never got married, probably because he knew he had this disease, but he had a close woman friend. She established the Corcoran Award for excellence in teaching by a young faculty member. Later, it was extended to include TA's. Corcoran's primary emphasis was on undergraduate education and he authored or co-authored a number of textbooks that were used for our EE courses. These include:

1. George F. Corcoran and Henry R. Reed, Introductory Electrical Engineering, J. Wiley, 1957.EE 1 Basic Electrical Engineering. (for EE 1 Basic Electrical Engineering) 2. Russell M. Kerchner and George F. Corcoran, Alternating Current Circuits, J. Wiley, 1943. (for EE 100 Alternating Current Circuits) 3. George F. Corcoran and Henry W. Price, Electronics, J. Wiley, 1954. (for EE 101 Engineering Electronics) 4. Henry R. Reed, T.C. Gordon Wagner, and George F. Corcoran, Electrical Communi- cations Experiments, J. Wiley, 1958. (Lab text for EE 105 Radio Engineering)

Henry Reed and Gordon Wagner were also Professors in our EE Department. Corcoran encouraged faculty to have a strong interest in undergraduate activities and many faculty members often attended affairs like Eta Kappa Nu initiation banquets and IEEE picnics. There were around 200 EE undergraduates in 1960. A significant number of them had returned from the Korean War and were supported by the GI Bill. It seems Professor Corcoran knew every student by name and how they were doing. His door was always open for us. However, when you went to see him, he acted very tough and menacing, but you knew it was an act and he had a heart of gold. When I would walk into his office, he would bark something like, "What the hell do you want Tretter?"

Student Does Poorly in Probability

George Corcoran was my professor for EE 103 Engineering Analysis. This course was really a two credit introduction to probability. It was the predecessor to our current ENEE 324 En- gineering Probability. Our department was one of the early ones in the country to recognize the importance of Probability in the Electrical Engineering curriculum and was largely the result of George Corcoran's vision. One day in class, Professor Corcoran told a story about how in a previous EE 103 class there was a student who seemed to be very serious and hard working but did very poorly on the first exam. Corcoran asked him what the problem was and found out that this student had previously been a Divinity student and knew nothing about Poker hands. Several questions on the exam asked the probability of getting certain hands.

Dr. Henry Reed

Dr. Henry Reed was a long-time Professor in the EE Department and retired around 1966. He was in charge of the EE graduate program for many years. In 1960, when I was a Junior, he was one of the few faculty members with a Ph.D. The other two were Dr. Gordon Wagner and Dr. Giovanni Rutelli. Before the 1960's, it was not uncommon for EE faculty members around the country to just have a Master of Science degree. Dr. Reed also ran a mini EE graduate department at the Navy installations in southern Maryland. It was either at the Patuxent Naval Air Station or an engineering lab of the Naval Electronic Systems Command at St. Inigoes. I don't remember which. He was one of the few faculty members with funded graduate research.

At that time, the Department was primarily focused on undergraduate education. How- ever, there were a reasonably large number of students working on the Master of Science degree part-time. These students mostly came from local government labs like the Naval Research Lab and the Naval Ordinance Lab which was the name of the Navy lab in White Oak then. All M.S. students were required to do a thesis. The Graduate School had no non-thesis option. There were very few full-time M.S. students. There were, perhaps, ten full-time Instructors working towards the Ph.D.

In addition to the books listed above that Dr. Reed co-authored with Corcoran and Wagner, he co-authored the book Communications Circuits, J. Wiley, 1942, with Lawrence A. Ware. This book was used for the Spring semester Junior course EE 104 Communications Circuits.

The Knock on the Door

In 1960 Glen L. Martin Hall (the Engineering Classroom Building) was about five years old. It had a bell system like in the high schools. The bells rang on the hour for the start of class and 10 of the hour for the end of class. There were also IBM clocks hanging from the ceiling throughout the building. Essentially all EE classes were held in Martin Hall. Dr. Henry Reed was my professor for the first semester required Junior course, EE 60 Electricity and Magnetism. At that time there was only one required E&M course. He locked the door as soon as the bell rang and would not let late students in. He seemed rather old and crotchety to us 20 year olds. Maybe he was as old as 60. (I'm 68 now.) One day the knocking on the door would not stop and Dr. Reed finally opened it. It turned out it was our Department Head, George Corcoran, with an emergency message for me!

Dr. Reed's Exam Grading Policy

On exams, we could have a long problem solution all correct except for a small numerical error at the end. Dr. Reed would give zero credit for the problem. He said, "You're engineers. What would happen if you designed a bridge, made a dangerous numerical error, and the bridge collapsed?" We had a lot of trouble accepting this argument since we were not going to design bridges!

Dr. Gordon Wagner

Thomas Charles Gordon Wagner received a Bachelors degree from Harvard in 1937. Then he came to the University of Maryland and earned the Master of Science degree in 1940 and Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1943, both from the Math Department. Dr. Wagner became an EE faculty member about that time at the urging of George Corcoran. Gordon retired in 1976 and died on December 13, 2005. Even though Gordon's graduate degrees were in Math, he had a strong interest in real-world applications and was an expert circuit designer and consultant to industry. In addition to the lab manual co-authored with Reed and Corcoran listed on page 6, Gordon wrote the book, Thomas Charles Gordon Wagner, Analytical Transients, Wiley, 1959, which was used for many years for a graduate circuits course he taught. Before the Glen L. Martin complex was built, the EE Department was in a building along the Mall near McKeldin Library. After the EE Department moved to Martin Hall, most of Gordon Wagner's university things remained in a box in the back corner of his office which he never unpacked. Gordon and his wife Rita were avid auto rallyists. As far as I can remember, Gordon always drove Porsches. In the 1960's, before microprocessors and VLSI, he designed and built an electronic rally computer for his car that helped him rank high in the rally world.

David E. Simons

David E. Simons was an EE faculty member for 35 years. He retired as an Associate Professor about 14 years ago and died on September 13, 1998. Dave served during World War II in the South Pacific, new Guinea, and the Philippines. After returning from the war he earned is B.S. and M.S. degrees in EE from the University of Maryland under the GI Bill and became an Assistant Professor in our EE Department around 1950. Dave was an expert circuit designer. For quite a few years, Dave did all the course scheduling for the Department acting as a one-man "Academic Affairs Committee." In the early 1980's, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, began offering grad- uate EE courses and started setting up an undergraduate EE program. The program at UMBC was considered to be part of the College Park program and under the direction of EE at College Park. Dave Simons was assigned to develop the undergraduate EE program at UMBC and went there several times a week. He established courses through the Junior year. Then the politicians (maybe the State Board of Higher Education at the prodding of the Maryland Legislature) decided that UMBC could not have an undergraduate EE program and that it should go to Morgan State College instead. UMBC was allowed to have a grad- uate EE program. All the work Dave did for the undergraduate program was terminated. I think all the wasted time spent on this effort was a significant factor in Dave's decision to retire shortly afterwards. Dave Simons was extremely well liked by his students. After taking a few of Dave's classes, students said they were "Simonized." He was a very down-to-earth person with a wonderful sense of humor. A few stories I remember about him follow.

The Charged Capacitor

Dave had a big capacitor (maybe with a base 1.5 by 3 inches and 5 inches tall) sitting on his office desk. One student often came to his office to ask questions about a class. This student fiddled with things on the desk which began to annoy Dave. So, one day Dave charged up the capacitor. As usual, the student arrived and began fiddling with the capacitor. He touched the terminals and, of course, got a big shock. The paper cup of Coke he was holding flew up into the air and splashed all over Dave and his desk!

Limited Questions

I was an undergraduate student in three or four of Dave Simons classes. There was a student in one of the classes who always asked many silly questions each period. One day he disrupted the class with an unusually large number of questions. Dave Simons stopped lecturing, looked at the student, and said, "From now on you're limited to one question each class period." The student immediately shot up his hand and said something like, "You really mean only one question?" Dave's answer was, "That's one."

Nailing the Table to the Floor

In a moderately large lecture room on the second floor of Martin Hall, there was a platform in front of the blackboard in the front of the room that was about a foot high and eight feet deep. There was a desk about six feet long and three feet wide for the professor's notes. The cleaning staff always pushed the desk against the blackboard at night, so the first professor to use the room had to move the desk away from the blackboard. A spring semester Senior class I had with Dave Simons was the first to use the room for the day. On the last day of class when we were all going to graduate shortly, we decided to play a trick on Dave Simons and nailed the desk to the oor against the blackboard wall. Well, Simons came into the room, hopped up on the desk facing us, and told us he had really enjoyed having us asstudents, wished us the best of luck in our careers, and asked us to come back and visit him. Then he just left the room, never having tried to move the desk. As an aside, graduating Seniors did not have to take final exams then and maybe into the 1970's. The reason was that grade compilation was minimally automated and took a long time. Grades had to be turned in for graduating Seniors a week before the end of the semester. The Registrar needed to know whether a student was graduating or not to have diplomas made by the graduation ceremony.

Dave Simons is Late

Dave Simons died in September 1998 from complications of lung cancer. He was always quitting smoking. There was a service at the Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home on New Hampshire Avenue in White Oak, Maryland. After the service, the burial was to take place at the Arlington National Cemetery since Dave served in the military in World War II. We got in our cars and hurried to the cemetery. After a 20 minute wait the hearse still had not arrived. Not long after that, we got a call saying the hearse was stuck in a traffic jam caused by an accident. We had left just early enough to avoid the jam. The hearse finally arrived about two hours late. This is the only experience I have had where someone was late to their own burial!

Yellow vs. White Chalk

At one point in my undergraduate years, Russell Glock (an Instructor working on his EE) and, perhaps, Dave Simons were having a friendly argument over whether white or yellow chalk was better. One thought the yellow chalk was too soft and the other thought the white was too hard. One would come into class and immediately scoop up all the chalk he did not like and throw it in the trash. The other would come into class and do the same thing. One day, one of them picked up the color chalk they liked and began writing on the board. The writing came out the wrong color. It turned out that the other professor had painted the chalk the opposite color.

Henry Price

Henry Price was an EE faculty member for many years and retired around 1969. He special- ized in electronics and control systems. He was my professor for the required Junior Spring semester course EE 101 Engineering Electronics. We used the electronics text listed above by Corcoran and Price. After leaving the University, Henry worked at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as the head of a rocket guidance and control systems department as I recall. He had been a consultant there before leaving EE. As was common at the time, Henry's highest degree was the M.S., but he had significant industrial experience. When I first returned to College Park as an Assistant Professor in September 1966, Howard Tomkins was the Department Head. He had come from NIH with a computer background and left in 1967. The Department had one central phone number then. Faculty phones were extensions. One secretary answered the central number and buzzed us when there was a call or took a message if we did not answer. For a year and a half after Howard Tomkins left and before Nicholas DeClaris arrived, Henry Price was the Acting Department Head. At the time I was playing clarinet in the pit orchestra for an amateur production of the Sound of Music. The orchestra personnel director, Buzzy Cory, called the Department to inform me of a rehearsal time. She had a coquettish and sexy voice. The secretary who answered the phone was not there, so Henry Price, whose office was on the second oor of Martin Hall next to the secretarial area, answered. According to him, Buzzy said something like, "Can Steve come and play with me tonight." Henry had a good sense of humor and kept reminding me of that call.

The Vietnam War Era

Many interesting incidents occurred during the Vietnam war era. When I first started teaching at UMD in 1966 faculty dress was relatively formal. Most wore jackets and dress shirts. Students dressed less formally but also conservatively. As the war progressed and protests mounted, student and faculty dress became much more casual until today it is quite casual. It is now sometimes hard to distinguish between young faculty members and students.

Tear Gas from the Armory

The Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) was housed in the Armory until relatively recently. As the war dragged on, there were student protests on US 1 and at the Armory. The National Guard and State Police came onto the campus several times to open up US 1 and control the demonstrations. My offce was in Martin Hall on the third floor, I think, facing the Armory. One day I noticed a large gathering at the Armory and then saw some puffs of smoke that were drifting towards Martin Hall. I figured it must be tear gas, so I left the campus the back way out Azalea Lane. People who had stayed in the building confirmed that it was tear gas.

Physics Faculty Protester

There was one Physics professor who actively participated in the student protests. He also began writing anti-war slogans on building walls. The Physics Department Chairman claimed he had an argument with this faculty member and this professor tried to punch him. The University asked this professor to have psychiatric counseling or else be fired, but he refused. This professor was then arrested with a group blocking the entrance to a building on the Mall, tried in court, and sent to jail for some time. He was really relatively harmless and should have been given psychiatric help. About the same time, there was a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department who was a slum landlord in Washington. His name and picture began to appear in newspa- pers and on TV for not keeping his buildings safe and up to code. He was shown in front of one of his buildings chasing a tenant with a long pipe. He was a major embarrassment to the University, but the administration said it was unable to take any action unless this professor was convicted of a crime. Meanwhile the poor mentally disturbed Physics professor was serving time in jail. Eventually, the slum landlord was convicted of perjury and sent to prison. While in prison, it was discovered he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Bomb Scares

During the Vietnam War era there were frequent calls to the University claiming that bombs had been planted in various buildings. The bomb scares seemed to be more frequent around exam times. Whenever there was a bomb scare, the building had to be evacuated and searched. During one reorganization of the location of faculty offices, I ended up on the third floor of Martin Hall in an office that had been used by Russell Glock. Russ Glock was an EE Instructor who had just earned his Ph.D. and gone to work full-time at the Naval Surface Weapons Center in White Oak. He left behind a red ship's gyroscope that was in a metal box that was about 3 x 3 x 8 inches. The box had warnings written on it like "safety plunger" and "danger." I used it as a door stop. During the bomb scare evacuations, I made sure to put it in a prominent spot in the middle of the floor. One time the safety officers got to my office before I left. It took a while for me to convince them the gyroscope was not a bomb and posed absolutely no danger. It was lost when we moved from Martin Hall to A.V. Williams.

The World War I German Soldier

One semester I was teaching ENEE 722 Error Correcting Codes in Martin Hall. There were six students in the class, all from NSA I think. In the 1960's and 1970's we had many students from NSA which had hired new B.S. graduates and was sending them to College Park for the M.S. The EE Department even set up a study room for these students on the second oor of Martin Hall for a few years. One day the classroom door burst open in the middle of class and a man walked in dressed in a World War I army uniform with the long khaki coat and a helmet with a point on the top. I was stunned and the first thing that came out of my mouth was, "Can I help you?" He muttered something unintelligible that sounded something like German and went to the back of the room and sat down. I figured it was some kind of fraternity prank and ignored him. I finished proving some theorem and this person jumped up, came to the blackboard, and said, "Let me prove something. I'll prove how to trisect a triangle." At that point I told him to leave, but he picked up some chalk and began writing on the wall. I went out of the room to the EE office which was just down the hall and asked them to call the Campus Police. Then I went back to the classroom. The "German soldier" was gone. What really bothered me was that the police never came! I was telling this story to another faculty member later in the day and he was looking at me as if I had lost my mind. Fortunately, another faculty member came by as I was relating this story and said he had seen the German soldier going out the front door of Martin Hall and down the steps.

Newspaper Article Left on Classroom Desk

One day I was going to give an exam in maybe ENEE 322 Signals and Systems or ENEE 324 Engineering Probability in a room in the basement of Martin Hall. When I came into the room with the exams, I noticed a newspaper article lying on the instructors desk in the front of the room. The headline was "Student Shoots Professor." I had a very good relationship with this class and took it as a joke. Things might be different in today's climate.

The Student Doing Poorly in ENEE 425

I was teaching ENEE 425 Digital Signal Processing in Martin Hall. One student who seemed interested and bright did very poorly on the first exam. I asked him why this happened and he said that he had been an undergraduate at Cooper Union in New York and all his tests had been take-home exams. In addition, he said the textbook was bad. Guess who wrote the book? It was me! Had this student ever looked at the textbook and notice who the author was?

Missed Makeup Exam

While EE was still in Martin Hall, one student missed an ENEE 322 exam. He claimed his car broke down, so I was soft hearted and scheduled a makeup exam for him. He also missed the makeup exam. At the time, Martin Hall had offices on the side facing the Armory and classrooms on the side facing University Boulevard with a single long hall down the middle. The next day after the missed makeup exam, I came out of my office and looked down the hall towards the window on the US 1 side of the building. The sun was shining brightly through the window so I initially just saw a silhouette of a person coming down hall towards me. As he came closer I saw that his head was all bandaged up, and then that there were stitches across his forehead that looked like a zipper, and when he was still closer that his face was severely swollen. I finally recognized him as the student who had missed the exams. He claimed that his car broke down again on the way to the makeup exam and he knew I would not believe him. He said he lifted the hood to look inside the engine compartment and try to see what the trouble was and that the hood then fell on him. He maintained that it caused a big cut on his forehead, that he went to an emergency room, and his face swelled up because of a severe allergic reaction to the anesthetic. I thought that it was rather unlikely that someone would injure himself so badly just to take a makeup exam, so I scheduled another one which he took and unked miserably. At least he did not use the common excuse that he had to go to his grandmother's funeral.

Armand Makowski

Armand Makowski joined the EE Department as an Assistant Professor after receiving his Doctorate in Mathematics and we were still housed in Martin Hall. One of the first courses he was assigned to teach (perhaps the first) was ENEE 425 Digital Signal Processing. As new faculty members tend to be, he had high expectations of our students and gave a first exam which many students failed. A few days later someone posted a sign outside his office door which had written on it, "Makowski, the No Pass Filter." Armand has mellowed greatly since then after dealing with our students for many years and having children of his own, and has realistic expectations now.

The Ping Pong Table

David LeVine joined the EE faculty as an Assistant Professor in 1968 after receiving his Ph.D. degree from the University of Michigan. His area of expertise was electromagnetics. After four or five years he left to become a full-time employee at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and is still working full-time there. Our offices were close by on the third oor of Martin Hall and we became good friends. We discovered that we both liked to play ping pong and noticed that there was an old unused ping pong table in a corner on the second oor of the Engineering Lab Building. We moved the table to a large classroom on the third oor of Martin Hall across from our offices. On Friday afternoons after classes were over, we would move the chairs out of the way and move the ping pong table to the middle of the room and play for an hour. Then we would move the table back into a corner of the room and replace the chairs. The table was still in the classroom long after Dave went to NASA and probably would still be there today if Martin Hall had not been renovated. No one else knew why it was there or took responsibility for it.

Tony Ephremides' Office in Martin Hall

At one point, the room arrangement on the third oor of Martin Hall on the side facing the Armory was the men's room on the US 1 end of the building, then Tony Ephremides' office, and then my office. Something in the men's room would overflow occasionally and the water would come out of the men's room door and progress down the hall to Tony's office door and go into his office. Fortunately, that stopped it from progressing to my office. As I remember, Tony was not very happy about the situation.

Can Bill Destler Teach?

Bill Destler came to the University as a Post Doc in the Particle Accelerator Group working with Martin Reiser. Bill asked to teach an undergraduate electromagnetics class after he was here a semester or two. By the way, at that time Bill had long hair and looked like a hippie. This led to a long faculty meeting where the question of whether a Post Doc should be allowed to teach a class was hotly debated in our typical academic fashion. The final decision was to give Bill a chance. That class and every one afterwards rated Bill extremely highly as a teacher. Most of you are aware that Bill Destler quickly progressed through the academic ranks to Full Professor, became the ECE Department Chairman, then Dean of Engineering, moved up the administration to Provost, and recently left to be the President of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Would this all have happened if we did not allow a Post Doc to teach a class?

The Civil War

Around 1969 or 1970 there was a three year civil war in the Department. The details of this period are classified TOP SECRET to protect all those involved.

Isaac Mayergoyz and His Armory Class

One semester early in his career at the University, Isaac Mayergoyz was teaching a basic circuits course in a classroom in the basement of the Armory. The class met in the morning. He scheduled an exam, and the morning of the exam he got a call from someone telling him he should cancel it. The caller would not identify himself or say why the exam should be cancelled. Isaac said he would not cancel the exam and the caller told him he would be sorry. The fire alarm went off after the exam had started. Isaac told the class that he knew there was no fire and they should stay and finish the exam. He told them that if they chose to leave, the makeup exam would be very much harder. Shortly, the firemen arrived and told Isaac he had to evacuate the building. Isaac argued with them and explained what was happening and why there was no fire and refused to evacuate. According to Isaac, our EE Department Chairman, Lee Davisson, was contacted by the administration and he received a stern reprimand.

Time in the Temporary Buildings

Most of the Electrical Engineering faculty and staff were moved for three years to temporary buildings in the area where the Kim Building and Paint Branch parking lot are now while Glen L. Martin Hall was being renovated. Everything in Martin Hall except the supporting structures was removed during the renovation This was in the second half of the 1980's as I remember. The temporary buildings were like the overflow classrooms at public schools in the area. They were brought in as two halves on trailers and bolted together. We each had 10 x 10 ft. cubicles with cloth covered partitions that went a little higher than head height. There were about six cubicles in each room. The environment was noisy and unpleasant and faculty worked from home as much as possible. The footsteps of people walking through the halls resonated through an entire building. There were also temporary classrooms in the area.

The Roof Leaks

One winter we had a very heavy snow. Apparently, as the snow melted the roof leaked. Unbeknownst to us, the water was accumulating above the large acoustic tiles in the ceiling. Finally when we came in one morning, the soggy acoustic tiles had given way and our desks were soaked with water and covered with soggy broken tile pieces. Fortunately, most of us had taken our books and important belongings home since there were no locks on the doors, and had kept a bare minimum of things in our cubicles.

Adasai Bodharamik

Adasai Bodharamik was a graduate student from Thailand. His wife was also a graduate student. Initially, Dr. Robert Harger was his advisor. Dr. Robert Newcomb was his wife's advisor. Bob Harger, myself, and maybe a third faculty member were on Adasai's Ph.D. oral qualifying exam committee for the Communications area. At that time the qualifying exam was entirely oral. He did poorly and we failed him. He switched areas and completed his Ph.D. program under a different advisor. His wife also earned her Ph.D. They then went back to Thailand where Adasai started a company named Jasmine which was very successful. A number of years later, after we had moved to the A.V. Williams Building, Adasai Bodharamik offered to have Jasmine donate around $5 million to the ECE Department to show his appreciation for how the University of Maryland had helped him establish a very successful career. He came to College Park to see how the Department had progressed and make arrangements for the gift. Nariman Farvardin was the Department Chairman then. Bob Harger and I approached Nariman and jokingly volunteered to hide while Adasai was here for a large fee. We hid, Dr. Bodharamik made the donation, and, of course, we received no fee. Two rooms are named the Jasmine Labs on the second oor of the A.V. Williams building. One is a general purpose computer lab with around 25 PC's. The other is the room for ENEE 428 Communications Design Lab. Funds from Dr. Bodharamik's gift were used to equip these rooms. Equipment and software donations from Texas Instruments were also used for the ENEE 428 lab.

Incidents in ENEE 428 Communications Design Laboratory

ENEE 428 Student, John Dowdal

One semester I was going to teach ENEE 428 Communications Design Laboratory. The lab was located on the first floor of the A.V. Williams Building along the back hall. There were four or five sections that semester. Students work in groups of two in this lab. Often, one is good at thinking and the other at typing computer code. On the very first day of one section, a female student came up to me in tears at the end of the lab session. She said she could not work with her partner, John Dowdal. She said John would not let her do anything and at one point told her she should drop the class because she did not know enough! You would have to know John to fully appreciate this. He was a very bright student and highly adept in computer skills, but he lacked some social skills. John is a very successful engineer at Texas Instruments in Germantown now. We solved the problem by switching John's partner to another section.

Travels of the Textronix Spectrum Analyzer

The ENEE 428 lab has two Textronix spectrum analyzers. The analyzers are heavy boxes about 11 inches wide, 24 inches tall, and 18 inches deep. They were expensive, perhaps, costing $25,000 each. The lab was first located on the first floor of the A.V. Williams Building on the inside of the back hall. Around 1995, while the lab was still in this original room, I was showing the lab to a visitor from another EE department. I showed him the standard setup including a PC, signal generator, and oscilloscope, and then told him we also had two spectrum analyzers which were stored up on a shelf. Then I pointed to the shelf, and to my surprise saw only one spectrum analyzer! We reported the theft to the police, sent out a notice to all the EE faculty asking if they had borrowed it, and searched all the faculty and student labs to no avail. About three years later Ron Sumner, who was in charge of the EE shop and labs, got an anonymous call that there was a strange object on the loading dock on the University Boulevard side of A.V. Williams that might be a bomb. The police were called and the "bomb" turned out to be the missing spectrum analyzer. We tested it and it still worked perfectly. We never found out how it disappeared and reappeared.

Students Always Blame Their Problems on the Computer

Students in the ENEE 428 lab often accuse the computer they are working at as being the cause of the failure of their project to work properly and move to another computer. Almost all the time, the cause turns out to be a programming error or a hardware setup error on their part. One semester a group claimed their program was working on their computer but then stopped. So they moved to another computer and their project initially worked but then stopped. They repeatedly moved to about four computers with the same result. It turned out that what they were doing was spreading a virus to each computer! We had to wipe clean all the hard drives they used and reinstall all the software.

Robert O. Harger

Dr. Robert O. Harger joined the EE Department in around 1969. He was lured here from the University of Michigan radar lab in Ann Arbor by Nick DeClaris who was the Department Head. Bob retired about 12 years ago and currently lives in Rockville, Maryland.

Dick Dooley and the Bad ENEE 620 Class

Dick Dooley joined the EE Department as an Assistant Professor around 1971 after receiving his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. His area was Communications. That semester Bob Harger was assigned to teach ENEE 620 Probability and Random Processes and the enrollment was unusually high. Therefore, Nick DeClaris decided to split the class into two sections and assign Dick Dooley to the second section. Bob Harger was asked to assign students to the sections. So, he got the transcripts for all the students and assigned all the good students to his section. Dick was unaware that he got the poor students. When Dick gave exams, his students did very poorly and he unked many of them. I think he was questioned about why he flunked so many. It was not until years later when I happened to meet Dick at a party and told him why his class did so poorly that he knew the reason. Dick left the Department after three or four years.

Bob Harger and ENEE 240

When we were in the temporary buildings, Bob Harger's cubicle was a few feet away from mine. He was teaching the required Sophomore class ENEE 240 which was a big lecture with 150 to 200 students. Bob was know to be very abrupt and hard with students but graded fairly in the end. He would start with a class of 30 undergraduates and be down to 10 in a few weeks. Many of us were envious of his small classes, but try as hard as we might we could not duplicate his feat. I could always tell when Bob had given an exam because dozens of students would pile into our office area asking for more points on the exams. The number of students coming died off exponentially with time but one student kept appearing for several weeks. Exasperated, Bob finally looked at this student and said, "You don't even know enough to understand why your answer is wrong!" The student picked up his books, looked at Bob, and said, "You are the biggest asshole I've ever seen!" I was stunned and bit my tongue so I would not laugh. Bob looked up at the student and said, "What's your name?" Then the student started running out of the office with Bob chasing after him, both bumping into the cubicle walls. I imagine the student immediately went to the Registrar's office and dropped the class.

The ENEE 322 Quiz

A few years ago, attendance was lagging in my ENEE 322 Signals and Systems class. It was unusually low during a lecture on Fourier series. I went through the derivations for the Fourier coefficients and left all the formulas on the board. Then I asked the students to take out a sheet of paper, sign their name on it, and write the formulas for coefficients for 10 extra points to reward those present. I said it was an open book quiz and they could use any available sources. Almost all the students simply copied the formulas from the board. However, one panicked student was madly ipping through his book looking for the answer! The other students were staring at him in amusement. Several students complained later that it was the only class they had missed and the quiz was unfair. Attendance greatly improved after that.

International MS in Telecommunications Students Learn About the United States Law Enforcement System

Dr. Mike Dellomo created the course, ENTS 689D Optimiziation and Analysis of GSM Net- works, for the Cross-Disciplinary Master of Science in Telecommunications Program (ENTS) and has taught it annually for quite a few years. This course requires students to take test equipment out into Washington area neighborhoods in cars to measure the characteristics and performance of actual GSM base stations. This is called "drive testing" in the wireless industry jargon. The equipment is the size of a small microwave oven and requires two antennas to be placed on the top of the car. The box is controlled by a laptop PC and measured data is also recorded on the PC. A few years ago, perhaps in the 2005 or 2006 academic years, three ENTS students recently from India decided to do their drive testing late at night to avoid traffic. They were driving in a residential area in Wheaton at about 20 mph around 2 AM. Someone must have noticed this suspicious vehicle with two antennas on the top and foreign looking people in it going slowly and notified the police. Suddenly the students were stopped by several Montgomery County Police cars and questioned for over an hour. The police then escorted them to the Beltway and told them to go directly home. When the students arrived at their apartment in Spring Hill Lake, several Prince Georges County Police cars were waiting for them. The police took the laptop PC and then said it had been reported as stolen. The students showed the police the sales receipts and shipping documents for the PC to prove that they had bought it legally. However, the police kept the PC, gave the students a contact number, and left. They were not charged with any offenses. By now it had been many hours and was early in the morning and the students were totally terrorized. The three students sent frantic e-mail messages to Dr. Dellomo and me, since I was the Director of the ENTS Program, asking for help. We contacted the Provost, Dr. Bill Destler who had originated the ENTS Program while he was Chairman of ECE, and Dr. Nariman Farvardin who was Dean of Engineering, asking the University to help these students. The matter was turned over to the campus police chief since police know how to work with other police units. The PC was returned over a week later and I suspect it may have been examined by the FBI. Dr. Farvardin arranged a meeting with the students, myself, Dr. Dellomo, and a few other University administrators to show the students the University cared about their welfare and to help them get over their traumatic introduction to the U.S. law enforcement system. Dr. Dellomo now warns students in his course not to do drive tests late at night and gives them a letter explaining that they are doing a project for a course at the University of Maryland and includes his telephone numbers.

Creative Answers to Exam Questions

Over the years, I have seen students give very creative answers to exam questions. Some of the best ones are included here.

A Miracle

A question on an ENEE 425 Digital Signal Processing exam was "Prove the bandpass signal representation formula." The student writes three vaguely relevant lines at the beginning and the almost correct bandpass signal representation formula at the bottom and his proof in the middle is "miracle happens here."

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The Axioms of Probability

A question on one final exam for ENEE 324 Engineering Probability was "What are the three axioms of probability?"

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The image of the last two lines may not be clear to you. They are "Probability THAT I Am SWEATING Because I DON'T remember 3 is ' 1."

A Sad Story

I never saw this student again. Should I have referred him to the Counseling Center? His course average was 36.75/100 and I gave him and F for the course.

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This plea did not help. The student had a course average of 37/100 and received an F for the course. I guess it means I am not a great man.


Lack of Sleep

This student had a course average of 33.5/100 and received an F for the course.

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The Winner

This student seemed to be staring at the ceiling during most of an ENEE 324 final exam. I was curious to see what he wrote in his exam book. The following four images show his creative work. His score on this final exam was 12/100 leading to a grade of F with probability 1.

Divine Worship

Notice the additions to the Academic Dishonesty Notice in exam books. Divine worship did not help this student.

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Exam Rules

This student added some items to the list of examination rules printed in exam books.

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Nutritional Information

I had never considered the nutritional value of exams before!

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The ENEE 324 Ship Sinks

Perhaps this student was better suited to a career in graphics arts.

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ENEE 322 Essay

Someone wrote this essay in an exam book during the hour and 15 minute first exam for ENEE 322 Signals and Systems on March 15, 2011 and turned it in.

Department Heads and Chairmen

Here is a list of the regular and acting Department Heads and Chairmen I have seen during my years at the University of Maryland.

1. George Corcoran, Head, (while I was student)

2. Howard Tompkins, Head, 1965 (?) - 1967

3. Henry Price, Acting Head, fall 1967

4. Nicholas DeClaris, Head, Spring 1968 - 1974

5. Don Gross, Acting Co-Chairman, 1974 - 1975 from wind tunnel

6. Bob Harger, Chairman, 1975-1979

7. Jim Pugsley, Acting Chairman, 1980

8. Lee Davisson, Chairman, 1980-1985

9. Bill Destler, Acting Chairman, Spring 1986; Chairman, Fall 1986-1994

10. Nariman Farvardin, Chairman, 1994-2000

11. Steve Marcus, Chairman, 2000-2005

12. Patrick O'Shea, Chairman, 2005-June 30, 2011

13. Ramalingam Chellappa, Acting Chairman, July 1, 2011-2012

14. Ramalingam Chellappa, Chairman, July 1, 2012-present