Liu Awarded 2016 IEEE Kirchmayer Graduate Teaching Award

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The IEEE Leon K. Kirchmayer Graduate Teaching Award

Christine Yurie Kim Eminent Professor of Information Technology K.J. Ray Liu is the recipient of the 2016 IEEE Leon K. Kirchmayer Graduate Teaching award for inspirational teaching and mentoring of graduate students.  The citation reads, “For exemplary teaching and curriculum development, inspirational mentoring of graduate students, and broad educational impact in signal processing and communications.”

Teaching & Inspiring
Former student, Yan Lindsay Sun (Ph.D. 2004), now a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Rhode Island, says, “My first interaction with Dr. Liu was in his Advanced Image Processing class in 1999; I was in the MS program at UMD and took the class to fulfill course requirements. Excitement about course projects drove us to challenge the limitations of our video encoder and ourselves. We felt the enjoyment of researching without realizing we were doing research.” She continues, “This experience directly led to my decision of pursuing the Ph.D. degree, which was not an ordinary choice for female students at that time. If I had not taken his class, I would have graduated with a Masters of Science degree without knowing my full potential.”

Liu has trained graduate students in pursuit of both the Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees. Of his 60 former Ph.D. students and post-doctoral fellows, 26 have pursued an academic career in which they cite Liu’s mentorship and inspiration as essential to their success. His remaining students work in major industry research labs or have started their own companies.

Liu’s dedication to his students and his exemplary teaching style has garnered several awards at the department, college, and university levels. He was named Distinguished Scholar-Teacher and a Fellow in the Academy for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Maryland in 2007. He has also received the Poole and Kent Senior Faculty Teaching Award, the Engineering Faculty Service Award, and The A. James Clark School of Engineering Faculty Outstanding Research Award from the college. He also received the George Corcoran Award from the department for “outstanding contributions to electrical engineering education.”

Forward Thinking

“Professor Liu had the foresight to see the coming importance of wireless communications and gradually guided me to shift from blind signal processing to signal processing for wireless communications, which resulted in my pioneering work in channel estimation and signal detection in OFDM based wireless communications,” says Geoffrey Yi Li, now a professor at Georgia Tech who completed a post-doc with Liu in 1996.

Liu had the foresight to expand and improve the signal processing curriculum; he developed Advanced Digital Signal Processing (ENEE630), Space-Time Signal Processing (ENEE 634), and Multi-Media Signal Processing (ENEE 408G) which he developed in collaboration with Professor Min Wu.  In 2001, as Director of the Communications and Signal Processing Laboratory, Professor Liu led 17 faculty members and coordinated a major effort to modernize and revise the graduate curriculum. Since 2003, when the new curriculum was offered, the department has seen considerable growth in the enrollment of graduate students in communications and signal processing. More than 50% of 500 students chose to major in this area of the graduate program. As the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies in the department of electrical and computer engineering, he also created, reinvented and expanded the Master of Telecommunications program to address the increased industry need and focus on wireless communication.

Not only is Liu deserving of this award because of his experience developing curriculum and teaching, he has also been a transformative force in the field of signal processing at the University of Maryland and beyond.

Another former student who is now a professor at Rutgers, came to know Liu through mathematics. Wade Trappe (Ph.D., Applied Mathematics, 2002) became Liu’s first cross-disciplinary advisee. He explains Liu’s impact, saying, “Liu has been prolific--in large part due to his ability to straddle different fields of research. A quick perusal of his publication list will reveal papers in a broad array of topics, ranging from hardware design to multimedia signal processing, from information security to biology and medicine. There are very few people who possess this ability to cross-pollinate fields."

Many of Liu’s students spoke highly of him, not only as “an amazing teacher, scholar and researcher with outstanding track record” but also as a mentor and colleague.

Drs. Heather Zheng and Zoltan Safar

Liu’s colleague Peter Willett, an ECE professor at the University of Connecticut,  also praises Liu in 2012, “His resume is challenging and dense: his 214 journal papers and 386 conference proceedings papers afford him, according to Google Scholar on the day I write this, a gut-clutching h-factor of 59. … Good teachers are rare and treasured, but have a local effect. To have serious educational impact one needs to operate at a higher level. Ray Liu has achieved this.”

The success of Liu’s students reflects the efficacy of his methods in teaching, mentoring, and engaging new generations of engineers in timely and relevant research. Javad Razavilar (ECE Ph.D. 1998), now the founder and CEO of TeleOpComm, credits the diversity in Liu’s research group –students of different background, gender, and nationality—with preparing him for his career.

Liu always is very supportive of his students and has cultivated and nurtured a true research environment encouraging dialog and stimulating conversation among his research students and making sure they all follow the right path for a totally independent researcher by defining their own research problems, supporting them in all directions to successfully solve the problem and encouraging them to publish their work in prominent international journals.”

Razavilar credits his confidence and courage, developed by working with Liu, as the engine and underpinnings for his success in the wireless communications industry and academia.  

Trappe explains why Liu will continue to be deserving of this honor. He says, “His dedication and enthusiasm towards his research and education is invigorating, and his ability to connect with people suggests that he will continue to be successful in advancing technology by educating the engineering community and sharing cutting edge research results with the next generation...”

Dr. Zoltan Safar and Dr. Heather Zheng, both former Ph.D. students advised by Liu, nominated him for   IEEE’s Kirchmayer Award. They each took several graduate-level courses with him. “His well-organized and clearly-delivered lectures, his open-ended projects and his enthusiasm had a major impact on us, motivating us to investigate and explore further beyond the course material.”

Many of Liu’s students spoke highly of him, not only as “an amazing teacher, scholar and researcher with outstanding track record” but also as a mentor and colleague.

Safar and Zheng continue, “He gives high respect to students, always offers insightful suggestions, advice and criticism that help tremendously. He is a friend who dedicates his time to interact with his students. Because of his guidance and advising, each of us grew from a young, naïve student with little knowledge of research and innovation to a researcher who can independently discover new, interesting and important problems, then develop novel solutions. For these reasons, we believe that Prof. Liu is one of the most deserving and qualified candidates for this award.” They also recalled Liu’s own words, noting, “Most of his students maintain a close relationship with him long after graduation. In fact, he has constantly advised them throughout their career development. As Professor Liu says, ‘they are my extended family’.

The award presentation will be made at IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing (ICASSP), Shanghai, March 2016, with others selected to receive the organization’s most prestigious honors. “Congratulations on your achievements, which honor both you and IEEE. Thank you for your commitment to IEEE and its mission of advancing technology for humanity,” said IEEE President Howard E. Michel.


Published August 17, 2015