Congratulations, and welcome to San Diego State

RWS 305W
February 17, 2017
Dear New Student,
Congratulations, and welcome to San Diego State University. Over the next few years
you have the opportunity to become an expert in the field of your choice. Which field you choose
is understandably stress inducing, for it is one of the largest decisions you will ever make. I am
here to explain why computer engineering should warrant serious consideration. To do so, I will
examine major curriculum, esteemed faculty, extracurricular activities and career prospects.
To achieve a degree in Computer Engineering, one is required to take many classes in
both computer engineering and the closely related field, electrical engineering. One interesting
class is EE 300 or Statistical and Computational Methods for Electrical and Computer Engineers.
In this class, students cover multiple statistical methods as they apply to engineers. Methods such
as Z-distributions, Chi-distributions, predictions with confidence intervals and linear regression
allow engineers to effectively model real world phenomena mathematically. The Semester
Project is most exciting as it asks students to choose a subcategory of statistics and conduct
research resulting in a paper with accompanying computer simulations. For instance, my paper
covered the development of prediction models in which a weighted SoftMax function commonly
found in neural networks is used to allocate prediction responsibility. The coefficients used in a
Baysian multivariate linear regression model are received by inserting correlation values into the
SoftMax function. I then applied the model to a dataset of over 400 automobiles from the 1970’s
and it predicted fuel efficiency with an average error of only about 3 miles per gallon. The model
basically makes its predictions by looking at factors that strongly influence fuel efficiency. For
example, 40% of the prediction was allocated to the cars weight while only 0.003% of the
prediction was allocated to acceleration. EE 300 is important due to the practical need for
engineers to represent the world with math.
Students are then required to take the signals and systems course, EE 410. In EE 410
students explore applications of some of the most important mathematical findings from
legendary 18th century mathematicians such as Pierre-Simon Laplace, Joseph Fourier, and
Leonhard Euler! For instance, they learn how to reduce a complicated second order differential
system in the time domain into a much simpler linear system in the frequency domain using the
Laplace Transform. Once simplified, it could be solved with algebra, as opposed to calculus.
Another interesting mathematical tool learned in that class is the Fourier Series; using this series,
any irregular function can be represented as the infinite sum of sine and cosine waves. Because
the theory of signals and systems are prevalent in modern computers and electronics, it is crucial
for computer engineers to learn this material.
Electrical engineering classes typically focus on physics and hardware, whereas computer
engineering courses focus on software and computer organization. Both subjects are paramount
in the design of computers, but computer engineers typically take a few more software courses
than electrical engineers. An important one is CompE 375, or Embedded System Design. In
CompE 375, students learn how to program AVR and ARM boards to create embedded systems.
Embedded systems are small, modular computers that can be programmed for a specific purpose;
these are the simple computers which are in most modern electronics. In a lab taken alongside
this class, students are required to build projects such as a Morse Code transmitter and a
heartbeat monitor. Due to an increase in the demand for computers in everyday items, embedded
system design is one of the fastest growing subcategories of computer engineering.
Computer engineering students ultimately apply what they have learned in CompE 490
or, the Senior Project. In this class, students spend all semester on a project with other
engineering students to be present on Senior Design Day. Last year projects included global
tracking systems, autonomous firefighting robots and a quadcopter used to mount objects on
electric lines (“Fall 2016 Senior Design Projects”). I am personally looking forward to my senior
project because it will allow me to work with engineers in other disciplines.
A great deal of what was just described may sound intimidating and rightfully so. The
classes engineering students are required to take are typically more difficult than classes of other
students in the arts and humanities. While you will likely have less free time than your friends,
and spend many late nights trying to solve tough problem sets, the challenge is very rewarding
both personally and professionally. Despite the materials steep learning curve, the highlyregarded faculty in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering present it in a way
undergraduate students can understand.
Aside from teaching, professors such as Dr. Fred Harris are conducting important and
exciting research here on campus. Dr. Harris has had an illustrious career in the field of digital
signal processing with over 200 published papers; his most well-known paper is the 1978
publication “On the use of Windows for Harmonic Analysis with the Discrete Fourier
Transform”. In this paper, he defines what has come to be known as the Blackman-Harris filter.
Engineers use the Blackman-Harris filter to limit inherent noise in sinc waves during signal
processing. In 2003 he became an IEEE fellow, and in 2006 he received the Software Defined
Radio Forum’s “Industry Achievement Award”. He has most recently received two best paper
awards at the Software Defined Radio Conference in 2006 and 2011 (“Faculty Profile – Dr.
Fredrick J. Harris, Ph. D.”).
On the other hand, Dr. Amir Alimohammad is one of the younger professors in the
department, although that does not show in his experience. Between 2006 and now, Dr.
Alimohammad has authored or coauthored 21 journal articles mostly relating to the efficient
design of electronics (“Amir Alimohammad”). He is now the director of the VLSI Design and
Test Laboratory in which he researches transistor level designs and their impact. I can speak to
this research personally. After being a student of Dr. Alimohammad’s in Digital Circuits
(CompE 470), I have become a research assistant in his lab. My current work includes a
compressed sensing project in which graduate students, research assistants and I are finding the
most efficient way to implement the Discrete Cosine Transform, or DCT at the transistor level.
The DCT is a lossy data compression algorithm most commonly used in JPEG photo
compression. Using trigonometric identities, it converts any waveform into the sum of cosine
waves. Because the high frequency elements of the sum are nonessential, they are downsampled;
this process compresses the data. Hopefully the DCT could be used in a recording sensor to
reduce the amount of information sent by the transmitter and subsequently reduce the amount of
power used by the system. Aside from their research, the faculty are heavily invested in the
success of undergraduates at SDSU.
SDSU is also making a massive investment into the College of Engineering by way of
infrastructure. A new $89,000,000 engineering complex is under construction in the middle of
campus and set to be open in the winter of 2018. This new building will include facilities such as
classrooms, labs and offices for both the students and faculty.
Computer engineers will also find extracurricular resources in the form of clubs such as
the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Mechatronics. SWE is a group geared towards, but
not exclusive to, female engineers. Only about 20% of engineers are female, and SWE hopes to
increase that number. One way SWE helps students is with the Evening of Professional
Development. There, students are given the opportunity to dine and network with representatives
from local engineering companies (“Evening of Professional Development”). Mechatronics is a
newer group on campus which supports multiple teams who take part in worldwide engineering
competitions. The primary Mechatronics team, Robosub, is a group of engineering students who
build an autonomous submarine. In 2015 our mechatronics team won first place against schools
like USC, CIT and IIT Bombay (“Robosub”). Whatever your interest, you will be sure to find
organizations on campus to facilitate your growth as an engineering student.
As a computer engineer, you will join a field of talented experts who work to advance
modern technology. For example, SDSU has 155 employees at Google, 168 employees at
Microsoft, 310 employees at Apple, and 899 employees at Qualcomm per LinkedIn (“Google”;
“Microsoft”; “Apple”; “Qualcomm”). At these companies, engineers are given important
responsibilities and solve interesting problems; an engineer’s salary reflects this. According to
the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, computer engineers receive the 9th
highest pay of 137 possible majors (Carnevale). While money isn’t everything, it is important to
know that hard work and ambition as a student will lead to a bright career.
Computer engineering is about creating the tools on which our modern world is built. By
choosing to pursue a degree in this field, you will be presented with continuous opportunities to
work on solving exciting problems and better our world. Thank you for your consideration and
best of luck with your decision.
Works Cited
“Amir Alimohammad” San Diego State University College of Engineering. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
“Apple” LinkedIn Corporation. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
Carnevale, Anthony, Ban Cheah, and Andrew Hanson. “The Economic Value of College
Majors” Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Web. 16 Feb.
“Evening of Professional Development” San Diego State University Society of Women
Engineers. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
“Faculty Profile – Dr. Fredrick J. Harris, Ph.D.” San Diego State University Department of
Electrical and Computer Engineering. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
“Fall 2016 Senior Design Projects” San Diego State University College of Engineering. Web. 16
Feb. 2016.
“Google” LinkedIn Corporation. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
“Microsoft” LinkedIn Corporation. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
“Qualcomm” LinkedIn Corporation. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
“Robosub” San Diego State University Mechatronics. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.

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