Working Professionals Get Hands-On Electrical Engineering Education at OHSU

10/15/03    Portland, Ore.

Three part-time students collaborate to build a novel audio spectrum analyzer as part of an OGI School of Science & Engineering course,

When students say that electrical engineering courses at OHSU's OGI School of Science & Engineering are hands on, they mean it.

A trio of Portland-area engineers recently found that out for themselves when they enrolled in an OGI evening class. In "System-on-Chip Design with Programmable Logic," now offered as part of the Computer Engineering and Design curriculum through OGI's Department of Computer Science and Engineering (EE571), Ryan Mitchell, Rob Treadway and Garry Zohar collaborated for three months to build a novel audio spectrum analyzer that displays its results on a CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor.

Like many OGI students, these engineers currently are working in high tech jobs, but attend the Hillsboro, Ore.-based science and engineering school part time to stay on top of their fields. OGI courses provide these professionals the opportunity to learn from one another while receiving expert instruction on real-world interdisciplinary research problems.

"The students applied knowledge of digital signal processing and the computer graphics technology they learned in the class to a reconfigurable hardware platform to implement a creative and well-executed project," said John Lynch, an electrical engineering instructor who taught the course with help from Dan Hammerstrom, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering, and computer science and engineering at OGI.

Lynch describes the display as "like what you see on some audio equipment: a series of columns whose height vary with the spectrum of the audio signal. It's an interesting, concrete example of a computer engineering project that involves hands-on, real work with a reasonable degree of sophistication. That's what OGI electrical engineering courses are all about."

Mitchell, 32, is an embedded systems engineer for Wyeast Tech in Portland. Though he's not pursuing a formal master's degree, he took the electrical engineering course because it sounded interesting and he thought the coursework tied in nicely with a work project.

"I could have learned the basics of digital circuit design using Verilog programming language and implementation of FPGA's (Field Programmable Gate Array's) on my own, and I'm continuing that myself, but taking the class at OGI was a good investment," said Mitchell.

"In this case the instructor was good, the learning was pragmatic in nature, and I certainly learned a lot of important things about digital design than if I'd studied independently."

Rob Treadway, 48, agreed. "Most of what I learned in the course will be useful on the job or in my consulting practice," said Treadway, an electronics consultant who formerly worked for Credence Systems Corporation in Hillsboro. "It's difficult to get an understanding of a subject exclusively with on-the-job experience." Treadway is pursuing a master's degree at Oregon State University but liked the sound of the OGI course material, the location of the logic design class, and he can transfer his course credit, so he signed up for the OGI course.

Garry Zohar, 27, has been a design engineer at Intel for three years and is taking classes to improve his skills while he considers pursuing a master's degree. "I was interested in learning Verilog. Verilog is becoming so pervasive in industry, I felt it would be a disadvantage not to know it," he said. "When I take classes outside my full-time job, I hope to do something interesting. We picked [a project] that was academically challenging, but also had all the bells and whistles that you don't get to work on in your daily job. And we could see the results of our efforts synthesized and working in just minutes of writing the code. I found it very gratifying."

###