S.K. Ramesh is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Director and Lead Principal Investigator of the “Bridging the Gap: Enhancing AIMS2 for Student Success” program (www.ecs.csun.edu/aims2) supported by a multi-year grant from the US Department of Education’s HSI-STEM program. AIMS2 has received several national and international awards for improving student success with high impact practices including undergraduate research and peer mentoring. It was selected as the 2019 baccalaureate program of the year and named the 2019 Example of Excelencia by Excelencia in Education. Earlier he served as the Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at California State University, Northridge from 2006 – 2017. Prior to joining CSUN, he was Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at California State University, Sacramento, where he served as the Department Chair from 1994 to 2006.
In November 2019 Ramesh was elected to the ABET Board of Directors as the Director of the Engineering Area Delegation of ABET. Additionally, Ramesh is an experienced IEEE Program Evaluator (PEV) and has performed several ABET accreditation visits in the U.S, and internationally. Dr. Ramesh has served on several Boards including the IEEE Board of Directors, IEEE Educational Activities Board, the IEEE-HKN Board of Governors, and ABET Board of Delegates. He served as the 2016-17 IEEE Vice-President for Educational Activities, as well as the IEEE-HKN President for 2016. He has served on the IEEE Fellows Committee (2018), the IEEE Strategic Alignment Committee (2016-18), the IEEE Awards Board (2010-13), and as the Chair of the IEEE-HKN Development Committee in 2018-19.
Dr. Ramesh’s professional interests are in Fiber Optic Communications and he received the BE (Honors) degree from the University of Madras, India, in 1981, and the MSEE and PhD degrees from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in 1983 and 1986 respectively. Ramesh was elevated to the grade of IEEE Fellow in 2015 “for contributions to entrepreneurship in engineering education.” For additional information please visit http://www.csun.edu/engineering-computer-science/ramesh.
Q: When did you know you wanted to become an Engineer or what lead you to becoming an engineer?
I thought I would begin by sharing a little bit about my background to put things in perspective. I was born in India and moved to the United States to pursue graduate studies at the age of 21 soon after I earned my bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communications engineering.
Growing up as an only child my parents were always there for me. Like most parents, they were very strict when it came to my education and ensured that I always put my studies first. I just loved solving problems and I was doing well in my mathematics and science classes – leading me on the path to study engineering. My father had a long and distinguished career in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) serving the Government of India in a variety of leadership roles until his retirement as the head of the Tamilnadu Energy Development Agency (TEDA) that was responsible for renewable energy technology. Many projects that he envisioned almost four decades ago in solar and wind energy are now fully operational and provide distributed power to remote villages all over the country. Radio was a big part of my early life and lead to my interest in Electronics and Communications Engineering. So, I had plenty of inspiration when it came to pursuing engineering as a career.
Q: What was your university experience like? did you have an internship experience while in school?
If there is one constant in engineering it is change. The pace of change in ECE has been remarkable when you consider where we are today with ubiquitous connectivity that has changed the way we live and work all over the world. I was excited to be a part of this new and emerging field and when the opportunity presented itself to pursue graduate studies in the US with an assistantship I was delighted and accepted it right away. When I began my graduate studies at SIU Carbondale, I had no idea at that time that I would find my niche and my true calling as an educator. In my first semester I was assigned to serve as a teaching assistant for an introductory programming course on PL/1. I was worried since I had learned Fortran when I was a student in India and had to learn this new programming language and serve as a teaching assistant at the same time! But as my department head told me at that time: “You will figure it out”! Indeed, that’s exactly what happened as I found myself learning and teaching at the same time. That lesson has stayed with me to this day and launched me on the path to becoming an engineering educator. I have been fortunate to have worked with some outstanding students over time who have taught me through their curiosity to probe deeper, and listen, and learn. Optical Fiber Communications was coming of age in the early ‘80s and gave me a chance to work on many exciting projects going back to my roots in Communications Engineering.
Q: How did you get your first job?
As I mentioned earlier, my early experiences as a graduate teaching and research assistant launched me on the path to become an engineering educator. I really enjoyed working with my students and consider them to be my best teachers. Their curiosity and questions inspired me to pursue my PhD degree and seek a position in academia as a faculty member. I first taught at SIU Carbondale (my alma mater) as a Visiting Professor before moving to California State University Sacramento as a tenure track faculty member in the Electrical Engineering Department. I have been in the CSU system since 1987 at two different campuses – Sacramento and Northridge, as a faculty member, department chair and dean. Presently I serve as a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at CSU Northridge and as Director of the AIMS2 program, that I established in 2011 to support underrepresented minorities and first generation students in engineering and computer science. The program is built on a cohort model (and echoes some of my own experiences as an undergraduate student from years ago) and engages students through a variety of programs including peer mentoring, undergraduate research and tutoring. It was recognized as the baccalaureate program of the year by Excelencia in Education in 2019.
Q: What’s the most rewarding thing about being an Engineer?
Engineering is truly the renaissance discipline of our times. We have a number of global challenges in the world today: Food Security, Clean Air, Clean Water, Energy, Sustainability, Health Care, Transportation, Climate Change, Education, etc., Engineers continue to find innovative solutions to these global challenges that confront society. As I’ve said if you want to change the world you have got to be an engineer : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W_W4v-6jXA
Q: What other advice do you have for students? (maybe something you experienced or wish you would have done differently, Did you have a mentor, participate in peer study group(s), where you part of an engineering society or club?)
We had some truly outstanding faculty in the ECE department at REC Trichy (my undergraduate institution) who cared about us as individuals and supported us-unconditionally. They expected us to do well academically but nurtured and encouraged us to pursue extra-curricular activities in sports, and cultural activities like art, music, etc., and be engaged in clubs and professional societies. The life skills that we learned thanks to our participation in these activities has been invaluable. Teamwork and communications are much sought after in the workplace today. Looking back at those early days, living in the dorms, we had a virtual melting pot of cultures, languages and traditions. Sure, there were differences and disagreements – but the lesson for all of us was that one could disagree without becoming disagreeable!
The defining moment for me as I look back on my career is my involvement with IEEE. I was one of the founding members of the IEEE student branch at REC Trichy in 1978 and continued my involvement when I came to the US as a graduate student. IEEE members are making a difference in people’s lives by creating the technologies of tomorrow. Indeed our mission of “Advancing Technology for Humanity” is something that resonates deeply with me and for anyone who aspires to study engineering.