Illinois ECE Graduate Program Ignites New Features for Advanced Learning

10/27/2020 Ryann Monahan, Illinois ECE

An evolving curriculum and five-year funding guarantee are changing the landscape for graduate students.

Written by Ryann Monahan, Illinois ECE

An evolving curriculum and five-year funding guarantee are changing the landscape for graduate students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (Illinois ECE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A record number of new courses are proving to be a “game changer” in meeting the demands of rapid technological advances in industry and ensuring Illinois ECE graduate students are not only on pace, but at the forefront of engineering and technology.

New courses include Human-Centered Robotics, Quantum Info Processing Theory, IoT and Cognitive Computing, Quantum Optics & Devices, Autonomous Systems, and Silicon Integrated Photonics. 

“Over the past two years, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has added 32 senior undergraduate and graduate-level courses. No other ECE department across the nation can boast such a dynamic course selection for graduate studies. The program is designed to advance students academically and professionally by positioning them at the forefront of a rapidly changing era of technology,” said Michael L Oelze, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Associate Head for Graduate Affairs.

The courses are taught by award-winning and patent-holding faculty members who are distinguished leaders in both academia and industry. Our faculty research, discover, and teach in real-time bringing students the most up-to-date research and technological advances.

“The special thing about Illinois is the combination of the scale that we have and the sheer breadth of research topics, coursework, people, and faculty- all of whom can contribute to your graduate journey,” said Illinois ECE Associate Professor Minjoo Lawrence Lee.

Michael L Oelze
Michael L Oelze

A new “Five-Year Funding Guarantee” for graduate students provides further opportunities to join Illinois ECE’s top-ranked graduate program by removing financial roadblocks to advanced study. All students admitted to the PhD program are automatically guaranteed funding for five years, which provides students with a tuition waiver and accompanying stipend. This means that students will not have to take out loans to pay for their graduate studies and can focus on advancing their studies and research.

“Graduate students are the engine of research in our department and we value their contributions. The five-year guarantee is one significant way that we can show our commitment to students and their success at Illinois,” said Bruce Hajek, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Department Head.

Illinois ECE also offers a unique path for undergraduates to apply directly from undergraduate studies to a PhD program.  In the past, students were required to either have a master’s degree from an equivalent program or to acquire a master’s degree from our graduate program before entering into the PhD. With the institution of the direct PhD program, students can directly enter into the PhD program without having to first earn a master’s degree. This results in less time between finishing a bachelor’s and earning the PhD and allows students to start focusing on research earlier in the program of study.

Minjoo Lawrence Lee
Minjoo Lawrence Lee

“Many students know early on that they want to pursue a PhD. The direct PhD program was implemented to meet the demand of these students allowing them to go straight from their bachelor’s to their PhD. This also allows students to come in and get involved in PhD-level research from day one” added Oelze.

The Illinois ECE graduate program is furnished with a vertically integrated research infrastructure and intra- and inter-departmental collaboration culture. All ECE-related facilities and laboratories, from simulation and growth to characterization and fabrication, are located within a few minutes walk of each other.  The set-up creates a powerful link between academic instruction, hands-on research, and industry application allowing Illinois ECE graduate students to be bold in science and leaders in technology.

“I think what I get at Illinois ECE, as opposed to other schools, is mostly the breadth of opportunities. You can have excellence at scale- and I think with our department, with how large it is, you do get that elite program. At the same time, having so many opportunities with different professors working on different things and getting exposed to different professors when they teach classes- it allows for a lot better cross-pollination than other schools,” said Corey Snyder (PhD ’24)

Bruce Hajek
Bruce Hajek

An era of rapidly changing technology requires robust understandings and advanced education to compete and contribute.   Illinois ECE’s graduate program brings you into the fold of innovation that happens every day in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and offers an opportunity to transform yourself personally and professionally. 

“The amount of resources that are available both from an entrepreneurship perspective or just, like, the technical acumen, and the intelligence of the community that’s around you is unmatched at a lot of other universities around the entire world.  That can really help propel your career forward and even make world-changing breakthroughs,” said Aadeel Akhtar (MS ’16), PSYONIC, Founder and CEO

More information on Illinois ECE’s graduate programs can be found at or by emailing Jennifer Merry at

 More thoughts on Illinois ECE Graduate program from faculty, students, and alumni: 

Grad School is something that can change your life. It gives you the opportunity to do things ranging from making new discoveries in a laboratory, in the areas of advanced science and engineering, it could be the launch point to starting a company.”

  • Minjoo Larry Lee, Associate Professor, Illinois ECE

Illinois graduates the best technologists and engineers in this world.”

  • Yemaya Bordain (PhD ’15), Global Sales Lead; Embedded Military Aerospace and Government Business.

Illinois ECE is one of the best engineering programs in the entire world. It is one of the reasons that I am so grateful that I got a chance to go here.”

  • Aadeel Akhtar (MS ’16), PSYONIC, Founder and CEO

I said to myself, ‘I can either go into the industry or I can continue on my educational path.  I never felt done, so I opted to pursue a degree and you know, I was fortunate enough to get in here.”

  •  Alex Pietros (PhD ’24)

You are focused on a topic that you’re really excited about. So when you take classes the goal is not to learn the material and pass the test and then forget it- you’re learning things that you’re going to be using every day that are at the cutting-edge of your field and you’re going to build on that.”

  • Ryan Corey, (PhD, ’19)

Oelze is affiliated with the Beckman Institute, CSL, and HMNTL. Hajek is affiliated with the CSL and Lee is affiliated with the HMNTL

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This story was published October 27, 2020.