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Low donation funds classroom wing

Though neither will be here to see the opening of the ECE Building, Frank and Irene Low were among the first to realize the impact a new facility would have on the department.

In 2001, they designated a $7 million estate gift to ECE with the intent of supporting a new building for the department. In honor of their incredible vision and generosity, the southwest wing of the building’s first floor will be named the Frank D. and Irene M. Low Classroom Wing.

The Frank D. and Irene M. Low Classroom Wing provides a key secondary entrance to the building on the Wright Street side. The wing is home to two 113-seat classrooms. Both classrooms feature a tiered design ideal for lectures, conferences, demonstrations, public seminars, and other events. Outside the classrooms, naturally-lit student seating is built into the hallway. Once the building’s landscaping is complete, the hallway’s grand windows will overlook the building’s native-plant garden. Thousands of students will pass through the wing every year, benefiting from the Lows’ gift to the department.

The Lows wanted their gift to aid construction projects, knowing that large-scale investments like the ECE Building would be a key to the department’s long-term success. Their donation expresses their dedication to ensuring a strong future for engineering students at Illinois. Frank, as a department alumnus, understood how important advanced facilities would be for ECE to maintain its position as a leading source of innovation and instruction in the field.

Frank Low, born November 14, 1912, earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Illinois in 1934. He grew up in St. Genevieve, Missouri, and Davenport, Iowa, where he graduated from high school. At Illinois, he was a member of the Beta Psi and the Pi Tau Pi Sigma societies. After graduation, Frank first worked for Sangamo Electric Cooperative in Springfield and then, starting in 1947, he spent the bulk of his career at General Electric as an engineer in the Hotpoint Appliance Division. He held 34 patents, mainly for electrical components of washing machines and dishwashers. He earned a place in GE’s Hall of Fame for his distinguished and successful career. Frank passed away December 26, 2001.

Irene Low, born October 11, 1912, grew up in Evanston, Illinois, attending Evanston High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Northwestern University while participating in cheerleading and basketball.  After graduating, she earned a master’s degree in psychology at the University of Chicago. Dedicated to education, she spent part of her career as a teacher at the Illinois School for the Deaf and Blind. Irene joined the University of Illinois Presidents Council in 2002 and was a member at the Laureate Circle level. She passed away December 22, 2009.

This story was originally posted on the ECE ILLINOIS website.

Introducing the Open Projects Lab

The most successful engineers are driven by passion. This passion can be fueled by an engineer’s ability to pursue projects of his or her own choosing. Successful senior design projects and award-winning inventions make it clear that, given the chance to choose their own projects, ECE ILLINOIS students can achieve remarkable things.

In order to facilitate this student ingenuity, ECE ILLINOIS is introducing a new lab in the ECE Building: the Open Projects Lab.

“The Open Projects Lab will be an area where students can run their own projects that are not related to classes,” said ECE Professor Erhan Kudeki, who is coordinating with ECE student groups to determine how the lab will operate.

The lab will meet the needs of both short-term and long-term projects by having two sections. In the walk-in section, ECE students can stop by and use workstations with computers and measurement instruments. Students with longer-term projects can write proposals to use the long-term space, which a student jury will review.

Kudeki noted that since the lab isn’t tied to a specific course, students have the ability to pursue more risky and ambitious projects. They have access to the lab without having to worry about finishing their project by a specific deadline.

A rendering of the Open Projects Lab.

A rendering of the Open Projects Lab.

The lab will also serve as an ideal space for student events. Large-scale events and competitions, like ECE PULSE and HackIllinois, will use the lab as a space for students to prepare their projects. ECE student groups will be able to use the space to organize more frequent activities.

The Open Projects Lab will complement ECE’s other labs in their aims to encourage student creativity. The Srivastava Senior Design Lab provides a space for senior projects, and the final design challenge in the ECE 110 Lab is allowing for more student creativity. The Open Projects Lab takes this one step further, providing a space for independent and self-driven projects.

Kudeki said that he anticipates all sorts of projects being pursued in the open lab.

“This is a creative play space, and we’re hoping for an explosion of creativity,” he said. “The sky’s the limit.”

Interested in supporting this unique space and the students who will innovate here? Donors can make a difference with any sized gift. Opportunities ranging from in-kind gifts, to support for student projects, to room naming opportunities still exist. Contact Steve George, ECE senior director of advancement, at steveg@illinois.edu or (217) 244-8023 to learn more.

$1 million gift makes Srivastava Senior Design Lab possible

All seniors in electrical engineering—the nanotechnologists and power system specialists alike—share at least one final course: Senior Design (ECE 445)—the class where the whole engineering design process, from problem identification to prototype construction and testing, comes together.

It’s a simulation of professional engineering design. Working in teams of two or three, recent course graduates have developed, among other things, a calibration system for railway heat sensors and a footprint-imaging device for identifying and tracking river otters.

Such work necessitates ample laboratory space and, with over 100 students enrolled most semesters, demands for that space are significant. In the ECE Building this fall, the department will unveil a new laboratory dedicated to the course: the Srivastava Senior Design Lab. It is named in honor of alumnus Sanjay Srivastava (MSEE ‘87), who generously supported the building project, and the senior-design space in particular, with a gift of $1 million. The laboratory will provide more workspace than the existing room in the Digital Computing Laboratory.

Sanjay Srivastava (MSEE '87)

Sanjay Srivastava (MSEE ’87)

Srivastava is the chairman of SKS Capital, an investment group based in Los Altos Hills, California, which supports early-stage ventures in storage, semiconductors, and education. He is also the chairman and CEO of Vocareum, a new endeavor, aimed at providing online resources to engineers transitioning into the workforce from school or from other careers.

As a graduate student at Illinois, Srivastava studied computer vision with Professor Narendra Ahuja, and the collaborative workspace available to him had a profound impact, facilitating his own transition from academia to industry.

“I discovered on my own pace what I really enjoyed doing, and having access to that space was critical,” he said. His support of the senior design laboratory was thus motivated by its experiential emphasis. “It’s trying to provide the last-mile service to the students: you know, the last mile between learning and experience—learning and the job.”

The same last-mile support undergirds much of Srivastava’s work. In addition to SKS Capital and Vocareum, Srivastava sits on the board for the Foundation for Excellence, a nonprofit that provides scholarships each year for about 2,000 college students in India who come from backgrounds of particular financial need.

Vocareum itself is also a sort of last-mile company, which Srivastava likened to an online senior design laboratory. The goal is to provide industry-sponsored projects to aspiring engineers, along with corresponding resources and community-sourced feedback and mentoring. “The hope is that you can present the project as evidence to the employer of your experience,” Srivastava said.

In the senior design lab, students spend the first three or four weeks in lecture, during which faculty or industry experts present ideas for projects—similar to those that Vocareum will provide—and then the rest of the semester is spent working in the lab space. Teams will be able to access the space outside of class hours.

“Engineering is really about accomplishing fairly ambitious, technical, big things. Even if they’re small in size, they’re intellectually big things,” said Associate Professor Paul Scott Carney, the course director. In addition to providing a sort of simulation of the industrial sector, the goal of the course is to introduce students to good engineering procedures, so that ambitious projects have successful outcomes.

A portion of Srivastava’s gift will be used to establish the first-ever cash prize for the senior design course. Already, non-monetary awards are given to the students following their final presentations. Past top projects include a wireless hand signal transceiver for covert military communication (Instructor’s Award in 2011) and a Bluetooth stereo network (Most Marketable Award in 2012).

Each semester, as a new student cohort enters the Srivastava Senior Design Lab, ideas like these will blossom. Engineering problems will be identified, novel solutions chosen, the parts compiled, the prototype assembled. And in the process, another engineering vanguard—much like Srivastava himself—will undoubtedly be launched.

For more information, please see the full story on the ECE ILLINOIS website.

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