A driving force of growth, discovery, and innovation — this is perhaps the best possible way to describe the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte). As an urban research institution, UNC Charlotte fuels American innovation in everything, from resilient and sustainable architecture and environmental systems, to epidemiological modelling and sustainable energy.
Leading this wave is the university’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Here, programmes are designed to strike a balance between theory and practical knowledge, ensuring for a holistic education in the field.
“For more than 60 years, The William States Lee College of Engineering at UNC Charlotte has been one of the premier engineering and technology programmes in the southeastern United States,” Dr. Asis Nasipuri, Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering, states.. “We emphasise applied research, with opportunities for students to obtain hands-on experience tackling real-world problems.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the graduate programmes offered at the department, where modules are meticulously focused to ensure career-readiness. “The courses offered are very industry-oriented, which would build one’s profile and experience catering towards the needs of the wider community,” shares Indian student Ushma Bharucha.
Bharucha opted for the M.S. in Electrical Engineering (MSEE), which aims to provide students with advanced knowledge on the theory and practical applications of electrical systems and signal processing. She credits the flexibility offered as a determining factor in choosing the programme.
“UNC Charlotte offers a good programme where you are allocated a certain time frame within which you can choose your desired courses,” she explains. “For the [first] month, I assessed different courses offered and tried to form my schedule for the semester. All the classes provided the roadmap of how I would progress throughout the semester and how to make the best of the course.”
Throughout the year, students are guided through a number of in-demand areas of focus, including Communications and Networking, Signal and Image Processing, Electromagnetics, Antennas, and RF, Power Systems, Power Electronics and Machines, and more. The breadth of knowledge they gain ensures that by the time the year draws to a close, they are confident in choosing between a thesis or a non-thesis assessment.
“After a year, I was quite certain about the track I wanted to take for my master’s,” Bharucha says. “I opted for the thesis option since I was quite interested in some of the topics taught in one of my courses and wanted to dive deeper into it.”
She recalls one class in particular that turned her head: that of Heterogeneous Computing. It’s taught by Dr. Hamed Tabkhi, one of UNC Charlotte’s leading professors, and focuses on giving students a comprehensive understanding of the various hardware architectures involved in computing systems.
Dr. Tabkhi is working on a project that aims to develop an end-to-end privacy-preserving computer vision for real-time situational awareness focusing on smart city applications — one of the only existing projects of this kind in the world.
“We also have a full team of UX designers, visual artists, and mobile app developers to bring back this information to decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public,” Dr. Tabkhi shares. “Multiple faculties from transportation engineering, social science, criminology, architecture, urban design, and public policy are collaborating with us on the social/community aspects of the technology. The testbed creates a great opportunity to put UNC Charlotte as the leader of AI-powered smart city research.”
Students are often given the opportunity to work with faculty members on projects such as these, serving to widen their own expertise.
“I did research under Dr. Tabkhi for the Smart City project and I extensively worked on the action detection team,” says Electrical Engineering student Anbumalar Saravanan. “I received moral support in the form of his mentorship and my fellow PhD team. On top of this, I received financial support in the form of teaching and research assistantships that helped cover the cost of my tuition fees.”
Another programme offered at the department is the M.S. in Computer Engineering (MSCPE). Here, students are educated on current and future generation computer hardware and software technologies. Technical areas of focus include Computer Architecture and Hardware Design, Computer Systems and Applications Software, and Distributed and Real-Time Computer Systems.
MSCPE students can engage in research and individualised projects. Active research areas in computer engineering include: embedded systems, robotics, computer architecture, hardware/software co-design, real-time systems, reconfigurable and high performance computing, VLSI design, Big Data, mobile and edge computing, computer networks, Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems, digital signal and image processing, deep learning and machine learning algorithms, computer vision, hardware security, low-power electronics, operation and control of the Smart Grid, and others.
UNC Charlotte’s end goal is to respond to the greater Charlotte region’s employment needs with skilled, career-ready graduates.
“As one of the fastest-growing regions for technology in the nation, Charlotte demands an increasing number of hardware engineers, software developers, application developers, systems developers and networking engineers,” Dr. Tabhki shares. “The needs in this area align with the emergence of new application domains including artificial intelligence and machine learning systems and high-speed communication networks.”