Electrical and computer engineering department soars to No. 4 in latest U.S. News rankings
The department in the College of Engineering has had a milestone year with new and innovative research in budding areas such as quantum engineering, artificial intelligence, and semiconductor technologies — all while boasting first-class faculty and students.
Virginia Tech’s Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) has generated an electrifying climb all the way to the No. 4 spot in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for best global universities for electrical and electronic engineering in the United States.
The announcement coincides with ECE’s No. 50 ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s global electrical and computer engineering rankings, which featured institutions from 95 countries around the world. This latest top-five ranking focuses on electrical engineering programs in the United States specifically and puts Virginia Tech just behind Princeton, Georgia Tech, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tied at No. 4 with the University of California, Berkeley, Virginia Tech has established itself as a heavy hitter in electrical engineering research and innovation.
The Best Global Universities subject rankings are newer U.S. News rankings that prioritize measurable outcomes. Powered by Clarivate, they consider the number of highly cited papers, international collaborations, books, publications, and conferences as well as a candidate’s global and regional research reputation.
Luke Lester, Roanoke Electric Steel Professor and head of the department, noted the significance of the latest ranking as well as the program’s forward momentum.
“With the rise of objective rankings and our department’s passion for outstanding scholarship, we are now seeing the impact of our exceptional research efforts over the last decade,” said Lester. “This important recognition is not just because we have grown to be one of the largest departments in the country, but also because we have many acknowledged experts in our respective fields, including power electronics, power systems, cybersecurity, wireless communications and networks, and software systems."
The department’s research expenditures account for more than 10 percent of the university’s $600 million total, with projects covering both ever-evolving fundamentals and cutting-edge concepts. Industry partnerships and government collaborations also have opened up new opportunities for project-based learning at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Some of the most exciting and recent success for ECE has been the focus on the semiconductor chip-scale integration major for undergraduate students. Paired with cutting-edge research from several faculty members, the department is doing its part to ensure that students are ready to enter the workforce and move the needle on semiconductor development in the commonwealth and beyond.
Beyond work stemming from the CHIPS Act are the university’s strategically focused Research Frontiers, which have helped drive the department’s acceleration. In partnership with industry, government, and foundations, these focus areas “address emerging challenges and opportunities that seek to improve the human condition and create a better world for all,” according to Virginia Tech’s Office of Research and Innovation.
ECE has faculty and students contributing to innovative advancements in all four of the frontiers: Quantum, Artificial Intelligence, Health, and Security.
Perhaps one of the most talked-about up-and-coming research areas is quantum engineering. The discipline made a big splash at Virginia Tech this year with the launch of quantum centers on both the Blacksburg and Arlington campuses. Executive leadership includes Lester and J. Byron Maupin Professor of Engineering Wayne Scales. Several more ECE faculty members serve as area experts, mentors to students, and research leads in both locations.
In artificial intelligence, wireless communications, and power electronics and power systems, ECE has some of the most highly cited and well-known researchers making waves in key areas such as 5G and NextG wireless communications, communication networks and smart grids, computer architecture, virtual reality, and more.
Meanwhile, on the Health Frontier, Associate Professor Xiaoting Jia is developing devices to help tackle diseases of the brain and Professor Masoud Agah has prototyped a skin sensor that will be used to detect diseases.
Virginia Tech’s National Security Institute has a large focus on cybersecurity, and ECE’s Alan Michaels directs the Spectrum Dominance Division. Michaels was recognized as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors in 2022, an achievement held by only four others at the university – one of them being President Tim Sands.
The accolades for the department’s faculty don’t stop with Michaels. Some other top awards earned in the last year include:
- Saifur Rahaman’s announcement as IEEE president for 2023
- Harpreet Dhillon’s elevation to IEEE fellow
- Dong Dong’s NSF CAREER Award
- Walid Saad’s listing as one of Clarivate’s 2022 Highly Cited Researchers
Recent graduates from the department have also taken notice of the latest ranking. Junbo Zhao earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 2018 and has since become an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Connecticut. Zhao was recently awarded the IEEE Power and Energy Society Young Engineer Award and attributes much of his success to Virginia Tech’s program.
“I heard the exciting news of the ranking on LinkedIn and thought the recognition was a true testament to just how excellent VT ECE is,” said Zhao. “I am so proud to be a Hokie and a member of the ECE family. My education has motivated and prepared me to achieve excellence in the areas of research, education, and service I am doing every day.”
With several industry partnerships, government support, and high-caliber faculty and students, Virginia Tech’s electrical and computer engineering department isn’t planning on stopping the momentum anytime soon.
"This accolade is just the beginning of many big things for ECE,” said Lester. “With the collaborations of our faculty, staff and students, the sky’s the limit. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how our presence at the VT Innovation Campus and the addition of use-inspired research to our portfolio will further elevate our reputation. Our ability to attract and inspire top-tier talent from the U.S. and around the world is what is going to allow us to continue to climb even higher up the rankings.”