The engineering award is named after Robert R. Neyland (1892-1962), head coach of the University of Tennessee football team from 1926 to 1934, 1936 to 1940 and 1946 to 1952. Over his tenure, the team had six undefeated seasons, nine undefeated regular seasons, seven conference championships and four national championships. The University of Tennessee stadium in Knoxville is named for him.
Akram Saad, a graduate of the Master’s of Electrical Engineering program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has received the General Robert Neyland Young Engineer of the Year Award.
Saad, who graduated from UTC in 2018, is being recognized for making outstanding contributions to engineering, public welfare and the community during the early portion of his career. A native of Sudan, he currently works as a protection and design consultant at Patterson Power Engineers. He also won the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Power and Energy’s Chattanooga Chapter Outstanding Young Engineer award this year.
The Neyland Award winner is part of Chattanooga Engineers’ Week and is selected by a committee made up of representatives from 16 engineering companies and organizations in the region. Among them are EPB, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Chattanooga Engineers Club and the Society of Women Engineers.
Saad recently sat down for an interview:
Why did you choose the College of Engineering and Computer Science at UTC?
When I was offered a full assistantship from the Department of Electrical Engineering at UTC, I was already considering a Ph.D. offer from another University in Ohio. The deciding factor was my brother, who graduated from UTC with a master’s in electrical engineering in 2014. He informed me how the program will equip me with the skills necessary for my career as a power systems engineer.
How has the Master of Electrical Engineering program helped you with your career ambition and where you are today?
It has always been a goal of mine that my career should have a tangible impact on my community. As part of my current full-time job, I prepare design packages for power system substations that deliver electric power to thousands of customers. Also, the master’s program has allowed me to build a strong professional network, which has allowed me to have a seat on several of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ subcommittees. My work with those committees has resulted in positive changes to industry standards. Finally, the program effectively prepared me to pass the Fundamental Engineering exam. I now am on the verge of becoming a licensed professional engineer in power systems.
What have you liked about the Master of Electrical Engineering program?
I have benefited from the superior quality of the course catalog, faculty members and adjunct faculty members. Specifically, I enjoyed the program’s Smart Distribution Network course, a partnership between the industry and academia. Every week, a guest speaker is invited to educate the class on his or her area of expertise. This exposure to the industry through the eyes of top-notch engineers, consultants and managers provides students with the opportunity to build their professional network and explore career paths.
What area did you focus on or were there specific projects/goals you had while in the program?
Chattanooga is one of few cities in the world that offers fiber-optics in their distribution system. Many UTC professors are conducting research to utilize this state-of-the-art infrastructure. I was lucky to be involved in one such research opportunity during my master’s studies at UTC. The focus of the research project was to utilize data collected from smart meters deployed all across the city and identify anomalous consumption. The algorithm I designed will be adopted by EPB within the next two years. In my second year, my focus was shifted toward bulk generation and power system stability. During that time, I worked within a research team led by Dr. Karrar to help TVA nuclear group validate a certain behavior recorded in their system.
What were some of your accomplishments, personal as well as publicly recognized?
During my time at UTC, I published two papers and was recognized as the outstanding graduate student in electrical engineering for 2018. I was also able to apply to patent my thesis work that presented a more efficient design alternative for power system stabilizers with the help of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.
Have you had support from College of Engineering and Computer Science faculty/staff? Has there been one or two in particular who have positively influenced your studies?
I am going to break the support I received into three categories: personal, academic and professional. While I received tremendous support from all faculty members, Dr. Ahmed Eltom and Dr. Nurhidajat Sisworahardjo were my go-to for personal advice. Dr. Karrar has helped me a lot in all academic endeavors. Finally, Dr. Raga Ahmed and Professor Gary Kobet had my back and gave the best career advice I could have ever received. I am glad to have a platform to express my deep gratitude for these and all UTC electrical engineering faculty members.
What has been the best part of your experience while you were in the Master of Electrical engineering program?
One of my favorite parts of the experience by far was the opportunity to attend the National Society of Black Engineers Career Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Do you have any advice for future Master of Electrical Engineering graduates?
I would say no matter what your focus is, you will find a faculty member who shares your passion and helps you achieve your personal and professional goals. Be sure you utilize all the resources UTC has to offer. Get to know your faculty and administrative staff. These are good people and will do everything in their power to support you. They work with and for you, not against you. Pursuing graduate school is not an easy choice to make. If you approach the experience with clear goals, the benefits of the program will last forever.