Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Tim Wilson

Dr. WilsonDr. Tim Wilson is the chair person of the Electrical, Computer, Software, & Systems Engineering (ECSSE) Department at the Daytona Beach campus, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

1. Can you tell us about your background and what motivated you to come to Embry-Riddle?

I grew up in rural middle Tennessee. My home town, Centerville, Tennessee, is the only incorporated town in all of Hickman County. When I was growing up, Centerville had a population of 2500 people; Hickman County, 12,500. I was able to get into MIT but didn’t succeed the first time, so I dropped out and tried to make a living as a performing musician for a few years. I supported myself in a number of interesting jobs, including typesetting and delivering radioactive pharmaceutical. No, I don’t glow in the dark. Seeing people younger than me who had graduated college and were now my boss motivated me to get my rear back into school, and MIT was gracious enough to let me back in for a second chance.

While I had pretty much been a physics major in the first go-around; when I went back, I wanted to study electrical engineering (EE) because I had been playing synthesizers (and other keyboards) as a musician. I was successful beyond my imaginings on that second time around and got straight ‘A’s except one ‘B’ in a complex variables math class. Plus, I got to work at MIT’s Experimental Music Studio doing undergraduate research (via their UROP, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the equivalent of our Ignite! program). I ended up going to graduate school, working at the Research Lab for Electronics in the Speech Recognition Group for my master’s degree, and then in the Auditory Research Group for my doctorate. For the master’s degree, I modeled how the firings of the auditory nerve work, and for my doctorate, I investigated a model of the mammalian inner ear to try to understand whether prior observations of the change in stiffness along the inner ear’s length could account for the frequency selectivity of our hearing.

I got a position at the University of Memphis after finishing my doctorate in 1994, stayed there for 6.5 years, and was looking to move starting fall 2000. I ended up at ERAU serendipitously. My mom lived in Daytona Beach and was in poor health, so we wanted to relocate closer to her. I looked online (this was spring 2000, so online position listings were still somewhat new) at an IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers) jobs site, and there was a listing for someone to teach electrical engineering courses for the BS in Computer Engineering program. That one year visiting appointment turned into a tenure-track position, followed by tenure, then promotion to full professor eventually.

I served as Vice-Speaker of the Daytona Beach Faculty in academic year 2006-2007 and then was elected Speaker for the two-year term in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. I was appointed chair of the newly formed Department of Electrical, Computer, Software, and Systems Engineering starting in January 2010. The department was formed by merging the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering with the Department of Computer and Software Engineering.

In addition to my ERAU duties, I serve on the Board of Directors of the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, the DiscoverE (formerly known as the National Engineers Week Foundation) Diversity Council, and the American Society for Engineering Education‘s Diversity Committee. Seeing that engineering education and employment reflect the diversity in American society is a passion of mine.

2. As the Department Chair, can you tell us some of the highlights of the Electrical, Computer, Software, & Systems Engineering (ECSSE) Department?

Sometimes people wonder what all the areas of our department have in common — we have undergraduate degrees in computer engineering, electrical engineering, software engineering, and computer science — but it’s really pretty straightforward: they all deal with common technologies that are by-and-large invisible. You can’t see the electrons moving in wires; the transistors in modern computing devices are incredibly tiny; we communicate over invisible radio frequencies. A computer program may be visible text, but it often translates into incredibly fast electrical signals representing the ones and zeros of binary logic, and large software programs, like large systems of any type, have an organizational and implementational framework that’s pretty much just an organized collection of concepts. So whether we’re dealing with the basic units of electricity or the structure of complex systems, we’re still dealing with stuff that’s largely invisible. All those are quite distinct from the structures that make up an aircraft or spacecraft or the motions of those through the atmosphere or space, but the aircraft and the spacecraft both depend on the invisible electronics, radio, software, and systems engineering to get up and get back down safely.

But even though the engineering domains deal with “invisible” stuff, we pride ourselves on giving students hands-on opportunities from the get-go. We want our programs to take students to better and better approximations to engineering as it’s practiced in industry, so we move from simple team-based projects in EGR 101 through coursework involving individual and team projects, until the two-semester multidisciplinary capstone course.

We like to think that we graduate engineers, not graduates with engineering degrees. One of our Industry Advisory Board members once told me that he liked hiring our graduates because they were used to working like engineers when they graduated. That made me really proud.

3. What skills/strengths make our graduates stand out in the work force?

First, they get a top-notch technical education. Second, on top of that, they get the knowledge and experience of real-world engineering. There aren’t many undergraduate programs in the USA, including the top notch schools like my alma mater, that put as much emphasis on systems thinking and engineering processes. Our graduates know not only that what they’re working on is part of a bigger system, they understand how it fits into the bigger system. Our graduates know what engineering requirements are, how validation and verification are practiced, how a system is decomposed into smaller sub-systems and then how those sub-systems integrate into a larger working system.

Finally, while they may not be experts at it, our graduates have some familiarity with system development in a regulatory environment. You can’t just write a piece of software or build a piece of hardware and put it on even a general aviation aircraft, much less a transport category commercial aircraft or a military aircraft. Given how little graduates of other programs know about any kind of regulatory framework, our students stand out and are valued by aerospace and aviation employers just for being aware of how regulations might impact system development.

4. What new initiatives or research is the ECSSE Department participating in?

As far as new programs go, we expect to launch a new area of concentration for the BS in Computer Science and a new MS degree starting this coming fall, both called Cybersecurity Engineering. Those programs will focus on the technologies of cybersecurity: encryption, white-hat hacking, secure software and hardware. There are an increasing number of jobs these days in those areas, and with the attention, good or bad, that the NSA is getting as well as the growing demand for professionals in the field, we’re glad the programs are getting launched. There’s an entire subfield there of cybersecurity for aerospace: how to ensure that digital communications between flight crew and controller aren’t subverted; how to make GPS and ADS-B (Automatic Dependant Surveillance – Broadcast) more secure; how to keep bad hackers or enemy personnel from accessing on-board computers.

Our faculty are engaged in some pretty sexy stuff. The research in aerospace cybersecurity, mentioned above, will also involve development of standards for developing and operating cybersecure systems, and one of our faculty, Dr. Remzi Seker in particular, is involved in setting those standards. We have faculty investigating what’s called “passive sensing”, where instead of the traditional ping-and-return direct radar or ping-and-respond secondary radar, the location of a plane is determined by comparing its reflection of existing radio-frequency signals, say satellite radio or digital broadcast television as the illuminators, with direct reception of those same signals. Our Dr. Billy Barott is a leader in that area; he’s serving on one NATO committee on the topic as well as on the Digital Avionics Technical Committee of the AIAA (American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics). Our Dr. Richard Stansbury does work involving putting ADS-B on commercial launch vehicles so planes and controllers will be able to tell where launch vehicles and spacecraft are in real time. And our Dr. Shafag Jafer and Dr. Keith Garfield are developing modeling and simulation tools and capabilities that apply to everything from the electric power grid to computational tutoring agents. Finally, our Dr. Massood Towhidnejad is director of the NEAR (Next-Generation Embry-Riddle Advanced Research) Lab, through which numerous members of our faculty work on FAA NextGen projects ranging from integration of unmanned aircraft to making it possible for flights on intercontinental routes to talk digitally to both American and European flight controllers.

Our students participate with students from other College of Engineering programs in the AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) competitions, including the RobotX boat for which ERAU was one of a handful of teams selected to compete. We have students, including the electrical lead, involved in EcoCAR. Our students attend and present papers and compete at IEEE and AIAA conventions. Also, Dr. Jafer and Dr. Garfield are spearheading our efforts to reach out to young women and turn them on to engineering and computing careers. We got ERAU to join the National Center for Women in Information Technology’s Academic Alliance, and we host an awards ceremony to celebrate the performance of young high-school women in computing courses. We also send a group of our students each year to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

We’ve just relocated to the third floor of the Lehman Building, and we’re looking forward to new opportunities like a radome on the Lehman roof for better investigating radar. We’ll have a new improved lab for student projects. And there will be a cool cybersecurity lab on the Lehman first floor. So we are very excited about what’s happening with our programs.


Conducting Research on a Company

By Kristy Amburgey

thCAI715Z9Company research is one of the most important yet overlooked tasks of a job search.  The art of research allows job seekers to go beyond a few known facts to truly develop a career plan.  Research should be a comprehensive examination of a company, its culture, its products and its people.

Why conduct research?

Knowledge and the job search process go hand-in-hand.  The more you know about a company, the more successful you will be during the networking, application and interview process.  The more information you have on a company, the easier it will be to make informed decisions.

Research is more than beneficial in many ways.  It helps you target companies and opportunities that intersect with your background, experiences and interests.  Thorough research helps you to network more easily as you have a picture of the company and can speak to its goals, benefits, etc.  Research also helps you to create customized resumes and job search documents.  Research more than helps you during an interview process as you answer questions and converse in such a way that the company knows you have an insider perspective on their organization.  Research allows you to take charge of your job search.

What do you research?

Research of a company can involve many different features.  The extent of research depends on where you are in the job search process.  If you are selecting a degree, more general research and a review of job opportunities/descriptions are helpful; talking to people who work in the job type you want to pursue is beneficial.  If you are interviewing with a company, you need to dig deep and really get into the company as you should be able to relate your experiences and accomplishments to the company’s needs.  In general, though, you should research the following areas, varying the focus depending on the stage you are at in your education and job search.

  • Overall company insight: the company website, specifically the “About Us” part; external publications and articles; sites like Glassdoor or Hoovers; and general research are beneficial to get an overall perspective of the company
  • Products/Services: in aviation and aerospace, you may already know what products a company offers, but you need to have the full picture of what they do, what areas they impact and what they successfully accomplish
  • Financials: although not all career types need this information, it is important to understand how the company is doing financially (or however they might measure success); you may be able to find annual reports with this content, or you may be able to review filings for publically traded companies
  • Opportunities: find out what jobs or co-ops/internships they offer and read the descriptions that most interest you; this step will also help you narrow down your career options
  • Culture: each company has a set of values and goals that affect the entire operation; understand how the group’s culture fits with your career goals and values
  • Reputation: research also yields a varying array of feedback and comments that might impact your decision; do an internet search for this type of insight, always taking things with a grain of salt
  • People: some companies have “star” CEOs and leaders, and you need to know about these people; also understand who might work in your department, specifically, to get a picture of how you fit into the organization
  • Competition: the idea that you do some recon for a prospective employer may be jumping the gun, but you need to have an accurate picture of who else is out there that may impact the company’s ability to get contracts, make sales or showcase emerging technologies

How do you research?

Research is most strong when you pull from multiple sources.  Rely on the company website but move beyond using that as your only source of information.  Additional ideas on how to research include the following.

  • Company website
  • Press releases
  • People/your connections
  • LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, if applicable
  • News resources like Forbes, Fortune or the Wall Street Journal
  • Industry or trade publications
  • SEC or quarterly filings
  • Glassdoor, Hoovers, Vault, WetFeet, etc.
  • Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau
  • Blogs (search for related blogs at Google Blog Search)
  • And many more options

As you research a company, you should develop your own organizational system to keep track of the details.  You may find that a simple list of facts is most helpful, or you may want to bookmark the best webpages for easy reference.  However you effectively organize information, ensure that you can easily reference your research as you decide to apply for a position, meet a new contact, compose a resume or interview with a company.

If knowledge is power, then you want to put yourself in the best position possible to be as savvy as possible about a company for which you want to work.

Kristy Amburgey is the Associate Director of Career Services – Daytona Beach campus and currently manages marketing and employer relations for the department.  She has been with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for approximately 10 years.

CareerSpots Video Highlight: 7 Tips for Researching Companies

Embry-Riddle Career Services wants you to review CareerSpots videos, a series of visual resources to help with your internship/job search and career development.

Research is an important job search activity to complete before making career decisions, changing careers, applying for positions, interviewing or accepting jobs.  Hear several recruiters give their advice on researching employers.

WATCH 7 Tips for Researching Companies

Researching Companies

Alumni Career Spotlight: Suzanne (Robinson) Kearns

Dr. Suzanne Robinson Kearns, DB 2000/2002

Dr. Suzanne Robinson Kearns, DB 2000/2002

Suzanne Kearns is a professor who teaches Commercial Aviation Management students at Western University in Ontario, Canada. She is also a licensed airplane and helicopter pilot. She holds a Helicopter Pilot college diploma along with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Science and a Master of Science degree in Human Factors and Systems Engineering both from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Additionally, Suzanne holds a Ph.D. in Education, specializing in Instructional Design for Online Learning. She has extensive experience as an instructional designer and is passionate about innovating human factors and aviation safety training.  She is the author of e-Learning in Aviation, a book published by Ashgate in 2010 and a new iPhone app called m-Safety.

What have you been doing since you graduated with your MS in Human Factors & Systems in 2002?

I graduated with my BS in Aeronautical Science in 2000 and my MS in Human Factors & Systems in 2002.  Shortly after graduating I was hired full-time as a professor at Western University, in their Commercial Aviation Management program, teaching human factors and aviation safety.  After I was hired I began my PhD in Education, with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning, which I completed in 2007.

Since 2007, I have written two books: Canadian Aviation, which is a textbook for university students who are new to the aviation industry, and e-Learning in Aviation.  I have also published four academic journal articles in The Journal of Human Factors, The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, and The Collegiate Aviation Review.  My current project is the development of a smartphone app that delivers pilot safety training, called m-Safety, which will be on the Apple App Store mid-April.

I have been married to Michael Kearns since 2004 and have three children, Katelyn (6), Sam (4), and Andy (15 months).

What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?

The biggest highlight of my career so far has been the publication of my e-Learning in Aviation book.  This book was published by Ashgate, a highly respected publisher in the aviation industry.  With Ashgate, you have to submit a book proposal and sample chapter which is put through an external review before the publisher agrees to publish your book.  Then comes the hard part – you have to do all the research and writing, which took me about 9 months.

After the book was published, I made connections throughout the industry with people who had read the book and were interested in collaborating.  It’s quite the experience to have people approach you, after having read your book.

What advice do you have for students and graduates who are interested in teaching in a university setting?

Teaching in a university setting offers a lifestyle with unparalleled flexibility.  I always dreamed of being a pilot, as I started flying airplanes and helicopters when I was 15, yet it was not until I completed an internship near the end of my ERAU bachelor’s degree that I realized how challenging the lifestyle of a professional pilot can be (as you are away from home so much).

I did not dream of becoming a professor, but I am very glad that my path led me here.  As a professor, your workload is distributed 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% service.  The teaching requires about 6 hours of lecturing a week, plus office hours and grading.  The fun part of the job is the research, as you get complete flexibility over what you decide to explore, and it’s something you can do from home.  My interests led me initially to e-learning and now to mobile learning, which I think has enormous potential to improve aviation safety.  The service component of my job includes running the admission process for our aviation program and sitting on several university and industry-level committees.

For students interested in teaching at the university level, the best advice I can give is to consider whether or not you are interested in research.  It’s not obvious from the outside, but a professor is expected to spend just as much time conducting research as teaching.  Universities place a very high value on academic publications, such as books and journal articles.  As a student, if you want to work in a University, the best thing you can do during your studies is to try and get one or two papers submitted to journals and published.  The saying in the academic world is ‘publish or perish’, which means that if you don’t conduct research and produce publications it’s unlikely you will survive in the academic world.

How have your Embry-Riddle degrees opened doors for you in the course of your career?

My ERAU degrees have opened up many doors in my career, beginning with the ability to get a Master’s degree.  What I mean is that in Canada, most pilot education is at the 2-year college level.  I am an example where it is hugely valuable to have a 4-year university degree in aviation, as it allows you to build upon that education.  In my case, it allowed me to get a Master’s degree and eventually a PhD.

Also, unlike other academic disciplines (such as history or calculus) there is a very “real-world” component to aviation research.  I need to stay on top industry-happenings and trends as well as the academic literature in my area.  Having a degree from Embry-Riddle has given me the foundation upon which to build my career.  I absolutely would not be where I am today without the education I received from ERAU.

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