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ECE professor Sean Hum (third from left) and undergraduate students work on a unit testing project. (Photo: Neil Ta)

U of T Engineering professor Sean Hum (ECE) has been chosen as the 2024 recipient of the University of Toronto Northrop Frye Award. This award honours a faculty member who has undertaken a teaching and learning project within the last five years that has significantly enhanced the undergraduate learning experience. Hum is being recognized for his development of the course ECE295: Hardware Design and Communication.

Hum leads the RADIANCE laboratory and holds the Eugene V. Polistuk Chair in Electromagnetic Design. A dedicated and popular teacher, he has received four departmental teaching awards, as well as the Gordon R. Slemon Award for the Teaching of Design, and U of T Engineering’s Early Career Teaching Award.

The impetus for the creation of ECE295 arose from a lack of opportunity for ECE students to experience and enhance their understanding of hardware design early in the curriculum. Previously, the only second-year design course was entirely focused on developing software. The result was a shortage of ECE graduates with hardware knowledge and experience.

In 2020, Hum conceived of a second-year hardware design course to help remedy this gap in the curriculum. In addition to designing the syllabus for this course, he oversaw the reconfiguration of the Myhal Centre Light Fabrication Facility, which was updated with state-of-the-art testing and measurement equipment so that it could operate as an experiential learning laboratory. He consulted extensively with industry partners to help inform not only the design practices taught in the course, but the types of communication deliverables that would best prepare students for the workplace.

The design project in ECE295 is unique in that students design an entire digital radio transceiver. Each team of three students creates a complete electronic subsystem — including receiver mixer, transmitter mixer, power amplifier — from scratch. The goal is that each of these subsystems, when plugged into a master board connecting all the student-designed modules, will create a functional radio. Hence, one of the most important aspects of the course is systems integration; the entire class contributes to a large complex design.

ECE295 launched in 2022 with 84 students enrolled. Since then, it has become increasingly popular, with an enrolment of 97 students in 2023 and 115 students in 2024. The course has been enthusiastically received, with students commenting that it helped inform their choices about future courses and gave them the skills, experience and confidence to find job placements related to hardware and pursue their own design projects.

“Professor Sean Hum’s leadership and innovation in developing this unique hardware design course has provided ECE students with an amazing new learning opportunity while supporting maker culture,” says U of T Engineering Dean Chris Yip. “On behalf of the faculty, congratulations to Professor Hum on this well-deserved recognition.”

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