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Saturday, September 23, 2023

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Barry Dorr, SDSU Engineering Lecturer. (SDSU) Barry Dorr, SDSU Engineering Lecturer. (SDSU)

Engineering Lecturer By Day, Jazz Musician By Night

Barry Dorr works his childhood passion for music into his instruction for senior design projects.
By Audrey Chuakay

Ever wonder what your classroom instructor does in their free time? Electrical and Computer Engineering lecturer Barry Dorr, for one, shares his love and passion for music by performing at local jazz clubs with the band Jive Chops. 


He emphasizes his excitement when lecturing since he can integrate his interest in acoustics and psycho-acoustics of music within his own senior design course projects. 


SDSU computer engineering senior Audrey Chuakay spoke with Dorr after one of his performances about how his experiences in the engineering world and his trombone complement each other.


Tell me about what you do here at SDSU.

My primary responsibility is the senior design program, our capstone program for students that helps them cross the bridge from academia into industry. I have about 150 students at a time that are divided up into groups of five, all working on different projects. So I “herd a lot of cats” because it's important that I stay technically involved with all the projects to give the students the guidance they need. In senior design, we teach our seniors about project management, we teach them teamwork and leadership skills, and then we have them apply what they learn to making a project. 


Tell me about your musical hobby. What instruments do you play?

In my other life, I'm a studio musician: I play the trombone. When I was a kid, there was an old trombone sitting around the house and I was the youngest of four. My parents said, “If you want to play in the band, we're not buying another instrument.” I was 11 years old and my parents made me play it for a year, and then it was like pulling the rope on a lawnmower and making it start. By the time I was 12 years old, I knew that I would do it for my whole life.  


As a kid, all I wanted to do was play music and work on cars and motorcycles. By the time I got to my senior year in high school, I really struggled with whether I should go be an engineer or whether I should be a musician. And I asked my dad, he was a very eccentric physicist. “Do you think I should go and get a degree in music, or should I go become an engineer?” 


He said, “You've got to follow your passion. Whatever you love the most, you're going to do the best stuff.” So as a high school student, I'm thinking, “Well, that wasn't a lot of help,” but it forced me to realize that really my first love is engineering and mathematics. And just the simple joy of building and creating things. I've always loved music. 


How do your trombone and musical knowledge tie into your engineering work?

I'm very interested in acoustics and the psycho-acoustics of music. I’ve developed a guitar amplifier, I do powered speakers, I develop an audio analyzer that is actually one of my own senior design projects because I like to do senior design projects right along with my students. It gives me material for lectures. I like to do projects that use the technology that my kids are the most interested in, and it keeps my technical skills sharp and it inspires the students. I like to think because I'm doing the same sort of things and working with the same tools that I asked them to do. 


What’s the best part of working with students at SDSU?

One of the cool things about music is when you blow a note, it leaves your horn and it never comes back. In the engineering world, we're always creating, we're building on things. But in music, it either landed or it didn't. What's been wonderful is mixing my musical interests and my engineering interests with students at San Diego State. Toward the end of my career, you know, after making gizmos and gadgets and modems and all kinds of fun stuff. But I’m now able to mix this music and engineering and have it be for the benefit of the students. And you just can't beat that. 


Do you have any advice for those who have a passion for music? 

If it's so compelling that you can't not do it, go for it and be the best at it. 


Interview was edited for length and clarity. Information on Senior Design Day (Wednesday, May 3, 2023) can be found at the College of Engineering.