Looking to the Future

Advisory board benefits from a breadth of experience

Alumni from a range of professions bring industry, government, venture capital, and academic expertise to the table to help Purdue sharpen its competitive edge, consider new curricula and ready students for career challenges.

Engaging industry in vertically integrated student projects, applying outcome assessment methods to the academic environment, and exploring the value of business courses for engineers are among the discussions of members of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Advisory Board.

Formed in 2005, the board brings valued insights to campus, says Mark J. T. Smith, the Michael J. and Katherine R. Birck Professor and head of the school of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

"This diverse group of talented professionals provides us with an external perspective that helps us plan for the future," Smith says. "In particular, their input on important skills our students should have and enhancements to our curricula are extremely helpful."

"I don't think any two of us have similar backgrounds," says Barry Epstein (BSEE '61, MSEE '63), inventor and president of EcoStatic Systems LLC in Dallas, Texas, who chairs the advisory board. "We use that wide diversity to offer various perspectives on whatever topics are discussed. A lot of synergies come from it. And we bring with us a profound respect for our Purdue education, especially the way it taught us to think."

For board member Patricia Redding (BSEE '79), retired director of product engineering at Hewlett-Packard, participation is an opportunity to give back and contribute to maintaining ECE as a top undergraduate and graduate program. She's passionate about recruiting and retaining more women and minorities. It not only gives them opportunities, she says, "It will better enable a rich diversity of ideas and perspectives."

Redding also is interested in the board contributing ideas on curriculum and teaching methods. "I want students to be well-prepared to be tomorrow's leaders and to be able to contribute to creating solutions to significant worldwide challenges."

The information exchange is instructional for both Purdue and the board, says Steven J. Cuppy (BSEE '85, MSEE '86), founder of Intrepient Technologies in Lynchburg, Va. "What's obvious to industry is not necessarily obvious to the academic community, and what's obvious to the academic community is not necessarily obvious to industry."

Cuppy is enjoying learning about changes in teaching methodologies and course revamping, and he endorses adding business courses to the ECE curriculum. The 21-member advisory board includes representatives from technology development, engineering firms, health and pharmaceuticals, research labs, banking, education, and venture capitalism. All are alumni—graduates from 1960 to 1989—and the mix of degrees includes bachelor's, master's, and doctorates.

"The tremendous synergy and enthusiasm are absolutely amazing when we meet," Epstein says. "We have very lively discussions that may take us into areas we have not considered, and into conclusions or recommendations that are a true meld of our experiences. All of us are enthusiastic."

Board members appreciate that their input is respected. "You feel you've been listened to," Epstein says. "I was assured the university thinks it's very valuable," says Cuppy.

The advisory board meets each fall on campus for a day-long discussion, learning about ECE activities and research highlights, meeting with faculty and students, and, the evening before, enjoying a student musical or theatre performance.

The midyear discussion will be via a teleconference call. "Future topics might include curriculum choices to best benefit today's and tomorrow's graduates in the workplace upon graduation as well as later on in their careers," Epstein says. "Other topics could be recognition of today's worldwide considerations, and current or planned ECE activities."

-Kathy Mayer