Wireless course a hit with students and NSF

As an engineer of wireless communications, Vince Poor knows he is at the front lines of a revolution. What he didn't know was how many others want to be there too.

His course, "The Wireless Revolution: Telecommunications for the 21st Century," pulled in 247 students this spring, making it the largest of any class this semester.

It also attracted interest from the National Science Foundation. Poor recently won the Director's Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars, which provides $300,000 toward further development of the course with the hope that it will serve as a model for similar classes at other schools. Poor was one of six researchers to receive the award, which is the foundation's highest honor for "excellence in both teaching and research."

"I thought maybe I'd have 25 to 40 students," said Poor, a professor of electrical engineering who created the class in 2000. Instead, the course enrolled 125 students the first year and 180 the next before jumping to 247.

"It's a lot of fun," said Poor. "There is technical subject matter, but it's at a level that is accessible to just about any student." This semester, 60 percent of the students were non-engineering students, many with concentrations in the Woodrow Wilson School, economics, politics, history and English.

The subject pulls in a broad mix of students because it has great financial, economic and sociological implications in addition to its technological aspects, said Poor. In the same way that wireless technology dramatically altered society with the advent of radio and television, the current advances are bringing new changes as people communicate and access the Internet everywhere, he said.

The class even touches on issues of international economics because the arrival of inexpensive cell phones is allowing developing nations to build their own telecommunications networks without having to install miles of expensive cable, he said.

"Besides that, it's interesting for students," said Poor, who earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Princeton in 1977. "They all have cell phones. To a large extent, the wireless revolution is being driven by young people."

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Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601