WCU Engineering Students Accepted to Prestigious Graduate Program

Two recent graduates of Western Carolina University, Robert Brown and Sam Venable, have been accepted into one of only seven electro-optics programs in the United States at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

Brown, son of Cathy and Terry Brown of Nantahala, and Venable, son of Rhonda and Samuel Venable Jr. of Charlotte, earned their bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Western Carolina this May. Brown and Venable received awards that include full tuition and stipends of $21,000 apiece.

“The electrical engineering program contains a lot of math and physics that prepares students for any graduate school, but the optical focus of Western’s engineering program has given me and Sam a head start,” Brown said. “Many of the topics we covered in classes, such as geometrical optics and Fourier transform, are the focus of classes I have to take my first year at the University of Dayton.”

Dayton has ties to the largest Air Force research and development facility and to the University of Dayton Research Institute, which conducts more than $70 million in sponsored research annually. In 2007, the university worked with the Air Force and regional businesses to launch the Ladar and Optical Communications Institute on campus, the first facility in the nation dedicated to enhancing ladar technology. The term ladar stands for laser detection and ranging. It is similar to radar, but uses infrared laser beams instead of radio waves to measure remote objects.

“Brown and Venable will have a variety of career options, ranging from defense research in the federal labs to engineering positions with prominent corporations in the electro-optical business areas,” said Patrick Gardner, principal scientist at Western Carolina’s Center for Rapid Product Realization, and a retired Air Force colonel. “My expectation is that these first two appointments are just the beginning of a long-term relationship with the University of Dayton and the Air Force Research Laboratory.”

Both Brown and Venable say they hope to land jobs with military contractors after completion of their master’s degrees. The Ladar and Optical Communication Institute’s founders include Raytheon Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Textron Systems, Boeing Co., BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems.

“My professors at Western taught me not only the course material but also the critical thinking skills and problem solving logic that will help me to excel at the University of Dayton,” Venable said.

WCU’s electrical engineering program is part of the Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology.

“The electro-optics program at Dayton is a very prestigious program, and it is a measure of the success of our electrical engineering program early in its history to have two of our students receive these awards,” said Bob McMahan, dean of the Kimmel School. “In fact, more than half of our graduating class is immediately going into graduate school at universities including Georgia Tech, Purdue and N.C. State.”

For more information about WCU’s engineering and technology program, call (828) 227-2775.