Monday, December 11, 2017

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Chris Mi recently became chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Chris Mi recently became chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
 


Meet Chris Mi

SDSU’s new chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering wants to ramp up research while maintaining excellent teaching.
By Michael Price
 

“I want to help bring the department’s research to the next level.”

Learning how complicated systems work has long interested Chris Mi. The electrical engineer grew up watching his father run the diesel engine that powered the water pump for a rice field in rural China. “I thought it was fascinating,” Mi said.

As San Diego State University’s new chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, he intends to instill that same fascination with engineering in SDSU students, as well as help the university’s faculty reach new levels of success, including the five who join him as new faculty this year.

Mi earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Toronto, then went to work for General Electric Canada. But Mi enjoyed teaching and the feeling of shaping young minds, so he took a professorship at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, where we worked for 14 years.

Driving forward

At UM Dearborn, Mi’s research focused on electric and hybrid vehicles. The National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy have funded several of his projects, including one that investigates better ways to predict battery life and performance.  The project will continue at SDSU as a partnership with UM Dearborn.

Mi also is the principal investigator for a Department of Energy grant under its Graduate Automotive Technology Education program. With this funding, Mi founded the Center for Electric Drive Transportation at UM Dearborn. That center now lives at SDSU, where it will fund laboratory work, cooperate with industry leaders to enhance curriculum and offer fellowships to graduate students.

“The focus of the center is on automotive engineering, but it is useful in a broad range of applications,” Mi said.

Ambitious plans

Mi came to SDSU because he respects the university’s ambitious mission to become a leading research university while still maintaining its commitment to teaching.

“SDSU’s goals are ambitious but attainable,” he said, “with clear metrics and a very specific path for getting there. It’s an exciting opportunity to shape the department. I really want to maintain our excellence in teaching but at the same time, I want to help bring the department’s research to the next level.”

In terms of specific goals, Mi hopes to grow the department’s doctoral student population, help junior faculty succeed in getting more grants, and move toward digital record keeping. But in general, he wants to implement the successful strategies he’s seen work at other institutions.

“If you want to be a top-ranking university, you need to look at what the top universities are doing and then do those things,” Mi said. “It gives you fresh ideas and perspectives to shape the future.”