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March 22, 2012 - 1:03am

Professor Profile: Jeffrey Fessler


What were your dreams as a kid?

I loved, and still do, both music and electronics. I dreamt of combining those two interests by doing some type of audio electronics or signal processing. My research ended up not being about audio, but getting to teach music signal processing in Engineering 100 brings me back to my first interests.

Some say electrical engineering students don’t get any sleep due to their heavy workload. When you were a Ph. D. student at Stanford University, how erratic was your sleeping schedule?

As a doctoral student I worked very hard, sometimes shorting sleep, yes, but I also played hard. I hiked in the Sierras, and I played a lot of jazz gigs all over the Bay Area. I even got to play a couple times with Stan Getz, who was an artist in residence at Stanford then. Having something besides work to recharge your batteries, to use an EE metaphor, is really important.

You have recently been selected to receive the Distinguished Graduate Mentor Award. What has that been like?

Actually, I do not know that much about it except that one of my colleagues nominated me for it, and I was selected by Rackham. I do know that they get several confidential letters from my current and former graduate students, and apparently, they must have said nice things. I’m highly honored.

As a tenured professor, why do you choose to teach an introductory engineering class for freshmen?

In EECS, most of us think that teaching the introductory courses is the most challenging and also the most important because the fundamentals are so important for all the courses that follow. So we try to put experienced faculty who take teaching seriously in those courses. I love music and signal processing, so that section of Engineering 100 is one of my favorites to teach now. The difference between what students know leaving a course, compared to what they know coming into it, is especially dramatic in an introductory class, and that is particularly rewarding for an instructor.

What do you do outside of work?

I enjoy playing music — jazz vibes and piano — with friends and family members. We bought a green house a couple years ago and in my spare time, I finished the basement — using my EE skills for the electrical wiring, I guess.