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Faculty Q & A

Dr. Thompson QA

Dr. Michael Thompson

Dr. Michael Thompson is a Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He also serves as the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs for the School of Engineering and Computer Science. Dr. Thompson has been a faculty member at Baylor since 1999. Read more about Dr. Thompson’s recent role change, his research on spectrum interference issues and his outlook on his golf game in this edition’s Faculty Q & A.

Q: How has your role changed in the last year?

A: Previously, I was the Graduate Director for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. In October, I accepted the position of Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs for the School of Engineering and Computer Science. In this position, I have staff members that will work with me on student programs that will improve our student recruitment efforts and retention rates. Our team will also work on helping ECS student organizations work together to accomplish long-term goals for the School such as fundraising and industry awareness.

Q: What is your favorite course to teach and why?

A: My favorite course is usually the one I am teaching at the moment because it’s so hard to choose just one. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Digital Signal Processing. I’ve taught this course since I started teaching at Baylor in 1999. One of the reasons I love to teach this course is because most students come through Digital Signal Processing at some point, and it’s a great way for me to get to know the students in our program.

Q: How has new technology altered the way you teach? How does this benefit the students?

A: Students who have taken one of my courses within the past three to four years are probably familiar with my use of Pencasts. I currently use Pencasts in my classes to allow students to work at their own pace as they work through homework. Pencasts allow students to randomly access the audio instruction at a specific point in a homework problem. It has been a wonderful learning and teaching tool for my students, and I frequently get requests for Pencasts.

Q: Are you working on any new research projects? What is the importance of this research on the industry?

A: I am working on a new research project that looks at spectrum interference issues between digital televisions and cell phones. As wireless technology continues to grow, we care more and more about how devices interfere with one another. Because spectrum is a limited resource, we need to find ways for these devices to operate together at different frequency spectrums. It’s a complicated problem, and an interesting research project to work on.

Q: How has your interaction with students had an impact on you?

A: When I first started college, I thought it was great. I got to learn all of these new things and meet all of these new people. By my junior year, I began to ask myself, "How can I never leave college?" I solved that problem by becoming a professor. There is an energy that students bring to the college atmosphere. I love interacting with students because they like to learn new things and discuss new ideas. This draw to student interaction has shaped my whole career and led me to some of my greatest professional accomplishments including the opportunity to start an electrical engineering program in an economically challenged area at the University of Texas-Pan American.

Many of my students know that I have a daughter with Down syndrome. Kylie has definitely changed my perspective on how I interact with students and how I teach. It has made me more sensitive to my student’s perspective and their unique abilities.

Q: Do you have any lessons learned from classroom failures?

A: I once included the answer key with a multiple-choice exam to a class of 200 students. About 15 minutes into the exam, I figured out what had happened. The class went crazy. I tried to get the exams back, but everyone was leaving. I had to make a new exam, and it was rather painful. Multiple choice exams require a lot of work to come up with answers that are close, but not correct. So, I did learn not to include the answer key with the exam. Needless to say, I won’t make that mistake again.

Q: What trends have you seen among ECS graduates?

A: Baylor graduates tend to be much better at communicating and being social with those who aren’t engineers. As a result, many employers say our graduates are more prepared to function as efficient employees. I’ve also seen an increased interest among our undergraduate students in graduate programs. The School’s focus on expanding the graduate and doctoral programs at ECS has helped increase interest. We need more engineering and computer science students in graduate programs, and this is a trend I’d like to see continue.

Q: What is the one thing you wish you could change about your career to date?

A: In the early stages of my career I underestimated the ability of students to contribute to my research projects, and I regret that. If I had been more proactive in recruiting high ability students it would have opened more doors and made me more efficient. That is typically the advice I give to new faculty. Work with both undergraduate and graduate students to help you advance your research agenda. Don’t try to do it all on your own.

Q: How do you see ECS changing over the next five years?

A: Over the next five years, we want to continue to deliver a high-quality education to our undergraduate students while controlling our enrollment. Our undergraduate program is going to focus on increasing the quality of our undergraduate students rather than looking at growing our undergraduate enrollment.

We also want to grow our graduate programs over the next several years. This will give undergraduate students new opportunities to participate in research as undergrads and will bring our programs to the next level.

Q: Do you have any personal updates you want to share?

A: Well, I’m very optimistic about my golf game this year, and I’m fairly confident that I’ll beat Dean O’Neal.

Personally, I think a lot of students know about my daughter with special needs. Kylie is doing well. She is going to Friends for Life, and this year she got to meet RGIII.