Framing the future

A brand new five-story building and 47 new laboratories. Ninety-one faculty members, including seven new professors. Two thousand students and 450 graduates in 2004-05. A total of $300,000 worth of merit scholarships for students. The only seismic shake table in the Pacific Northwest, a new state-of-the-art integrated circuits design and test laboratory, and a research docket that increased in size more than 45 percent from the previous year.


An impressive vitae – and it belongs to the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science (MCECS) at Portland State. Is the engineering school the new flagship program and PSU? Some say the program may represent the future of what PSU is trying to become.


“I think [Maseeh] represents one part of what PSU is trying to do right now very well; it’s showing that our programs can be credible peers with better-known programs at the state’s other universities, and partner successfully with local and international industry,” said Bart Massey, professor in computer science at Portland State.


Last year Maseeh College added 11 new computer scientists and this year it gained approval to offer two new doctoral programs.


“The things PSU is best known for off-campus today are the things we’ve been doing well for 20-plus years; Urban Studies and transportation jump to mind as examples,” Massey said. “MCECS is doing its part to establish that sort of reputation, but it will need time to get all the way there.”


“In the last couple of years we’ve made a quantum jump forward,” said Robert D. Dryden, dean of the college. “My hope now is to get great students together with a great faculty in a great facility, and watch the good things happen.”


Today, the college of engineering looks to a future where anything seems possible.


“I think that PSU’s vision is to develop a large, comprehensive university,” Dryden said. “Maseeh is definitely one of the programs that is growing and becoming one of its most visible components.”


High technology occupations are Oregon’s number one industry. In 2003, Oregon ranked third in the nation in semiconductor manufacturing employment, and in 2004 was the ninth ranked state for high-tech exports. Oregon’s high-tech exports totaled $4.4 billion in 2004, accounting for 39 percent of all Oregon exports.


In a January 2003 address, PSU president Daniel Bernstine said, “There is no question that, at this time, Oregon’s economic future is tied to science and high technology. To help meet the challenges of this new economy PSU has vowed to double the number of engineering and computer science graduates in the next decade.”


This vision was jump started by a March 2004 gift of $8 million, the largest donation in PSU history. The gift came from Foriborz Maseeh, who earned his BS and MS at Portland State and went on to a successful career in business and a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Maseeh College bears his name.


Three-fourths of Maseeh’s $8 million gift went toward construction of a new building, the Northwest Center for Engineering, Science and Technology. The work is almost finished and the building opens in two months.


The laboratories begin their load-in on Dec. 5, followed by faculty on Dec. 12. The building will be open to students winter term, January 2006.


“It will be the first time that our faculty and laboratories have all been in the same place,” Dryden said. “When you walk in, you’ll see engineering in action.”


Previously, faculty and lab space were divided up among six different locations.


The new facility was built atop an existing parking garage and will feature 400 parking spaces. The building is “green,” taking advantage of modern sustainability technology.


Water will be collected, filtered, re-circulated and used in the plumbing system. Ground source heat pump chillers, waste heat recovery and natural ventilation will save more than 2.7 million kilowatts of power each year.


The MCECS is led by Dean Robert Dryden. Dryden came to PSU in 1995 from Virginia Tech, where he helped create one of the nation’s top engineering programs. Under Dryden’s leadership, computer science and engineering programs at PSU have blossomed.


“Maseeh’s computer science department is now the largest in the state, and doing some flat-out amazing things,” said Massey. He currently holds a 2005 IBM Innovation Grant, awarded for research with on-board rocket control systems.


In 2003-04, researchers at Maseeh held more than $3.2 million worth of grants from agencies including the Army Corps of Engineers, Boeing, Dow Corning, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Highway Administration, Intel, Lawrence Livermore, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation and the Oregon Department of Transportation.


And new grants keep rolling in. David Sailor just received a $1.9 million award in mechanical and materials engineering for the study of urban climate. And a collaborative transportation center proposal with Urban and Public Affairs received $16 million, to be used over the next five years. The latter proposal focuses on civil and environmental engineering.


“We’re growing, and we anticipate growing even more once we get the new labs equipped and up and running,” Dryden said. “Our research is really going to take off. We’re looking at grant awards in the millions.”


The MCECS has made itself accessible to a wide range of students, featuring community college co-admission and flexible course schedules tailored to full-time students and working professionals. The recent opening of four Beaverton area master’s degrees via the “Westside” program has brought computer science education to the school’s Washington County center.


Many months ago, on the occasion of his $8 million donation to PSU, Fariborz Maseeh said, “I have a vision that tomorrow’s freshman can walk into our new engineering building and be filled with excitement.”


Come this January, that vision will become a reality.