Tech Talk: Quick chat with Georgia Institute of Technology’s Steven McLaughlin

Steven McLaughlin, Georgia Institute of Technology professor and Steve W. Chaddick School Chair of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has an extensive resume. It includes a long list of awards (for one, he was awarded the Knight of the French National Order of Merit, the second-highest civilian award given by the Republic of France, in 2011).

 McLaughlin is also an IEEE Fellow, has published more than 240 papers in journals and conferences, and holds 30 U.S. patents. And, he has been heavily involved with TI through the years as a professor and former participant of TI’s DSP Leadership University Program. The program helps sponsor key professors and students at selected universities with particularly strong digital signal processing programs.

We sat down with McLaughlin to talk university research and the present and future of engineering education during his visit to TI’s Dallas campus last week.

What does the future of engineering look like? I think the future, in some ways, looks a lot like it does now. The best institutions are still going to be guided by, and forced, to produce strong, disciplined, and focused engineers, who are grounded in expertise, grounded in discipline, and grounded in skills.

We are going to have to work toward innovation and creating a tradition and culture for our engineers to think entrepreneurially, even if they work within companies. We need to get them thinking about what it takes to create jobs, what it takes to build a business – could they create their own job?

Why do you think it’s important for companies like TI to invest in, and encourage, research projects at the university level? The hands-on work is a big part of the value that research at universities brings. There’s just stuff that you can’t learn from a textbook, that you can’t teach in the classroom. TI is part of an ecosystem that fuels the next generation of technologies – and even though they might never see direct profits from their investments, they understand that they are investing in students.

 TI has one of the few leadership programs that knows the best outcomes are gained by training a broad range of really sharp graduates. I appreciate how TI takes that role in the ecosystem seriously. That’s for the best of the country, the best of the students.

CEO Rich Templeton recently spoke to the U.S. Committee on Science, Space and Technology on this very topic -- the importance of securing funding for university research. Why do you think this is essential? First and foremost, the U.S. is recognized as having the strongest university system in the world, particularly as it relates to research and the connection to industry. We are absolutely the envy of essentially every other country. We’ve really done a fantastic job of not only creating new ideas, but creating intellectual property and really fueling the innovation of companies. Georgia Tech in particular produces about eight percent of the country’s Ph.D.s in electrical engineering. We like to think of ourselves as a major source of fuel for innovation for U.S. companies.

So our country is doing a great job of creating new ideas. How do international students play a role in this? A real passion of mine is the role of international students, to attract the best international talent from all over the world to the U.S., to educate these students, and for American companies to hire them. Universities are the gateway for attracting this talent that by and large fuels American industry.

 There’s too much publicity that says we’re training the best and brightest and they go back home. I don’t think that’s a reality – most of our students still want to stay here and experience the extraordinary opportunities that are available to them in the U.S. Either way, they will be incredible bridge builders for us.