Department History

At its start, the Department of Electrical Engineering at Rice University presented a modern, challenging program to a small, bright group of undergraduate students. In the 1940s and ’50s there were five or six faculty members and a graduating class of 15 to 20 in a B.S. degree program that required five years. There was also a modest M.S. program. In the late 1950s, the University faculty decided to expand the department and further develop its graduate program. At this time, the faculty was expanded by hiring graduates from top programs.

1960s to 70s

In the late 1960s, the B.S. was changed to a four-year program, and a non-thesis M.E.E. degree was introduced. By 1970, the faculty had grown to 18, the B.S. graduating class to 29, and the M.E.E. class to 23. Approximately 10 Ph.D.’s graduated each year from a total research graduate population of about 75. The department had modest national visibility and was beginning to bring in grant support. The curriculum received considerable attention and was probably as modern as any in the country. The computer science group and the bioengineering group in the department gave a new dimension to both the educational and research pictures.


In July 1984 the Computer Science Department was formed, primarily from the computer science faculty in the Mathematical Sciences Department. To emphasize the increasing importance of computers in all areas of Electrical Engineering, the name of the department was changed to Electrical and Computer Engineering.

By 1985, the number of electrical and computer engineering graduates had exceeded 90 and accounted for approximately 1/6 of the total number of Rice bachelor's degrees. By this time a number of the department’s previous graduates were becoming influential in academia and industry.

1990s to 2010s

During the next decade, there was a significant increase in research activity and funding. Programs in signal processing and lasers gained national prominence. The department’s industrial affiliates program was started in 1990 to facilitate research collaboration with industry.

Traditionally, a computer engineering curriculum centers around the design and realization of computer hardware, from transistor to integrated circuits to microarchitecture. In the 2010s, Rice’s computer engineering curriculum underwent a forward-looking expansion of scope from computer hardware to computer systems. This mirrored the shift in research and industry that was happening, and resulted in a more interdisciplinary and diverse array of courses students could choose to take.

Department Chairs

  • 2019-present: Ashutosh Sabharwal
  • 2014-2019: Edward W. Knightly
  • 2004-2014: Behnaam Aazhang
  • 2000-2004: Don J. Johnson
  • 1995-2000: J. Robert Jump
  • 1992-1995: Frank K. Tittel
  • 1990-1992: C. Sidney Burrus
  • 1989-1990: Frank K. Tittel
  • 1985-1989: C. Sidney Burrus
  • 1979-1985: Thomas A. Rabson
  • 1974-1979: J. Boyd Pearson
  • 1964-1974: Henry C. Bourne
  • 1960-1963: Paul E. Pfeiffer

Into the Future: ECE Advancement Committee

The Rice ECE Advancement Committee, comprised of leaders from academia and industry, was formed in 2006. The committee is charged with evaluating the current status and trajectory of the department. They identify opportunities and challenges the department faces.

Current members include:

Dean Rob Calderbank, NAE
Director of Information Initiative, Professor of CS, EE, Math
Duke University

Mark Dankberg, Rice Board of Trustees (BSEE 1977, MEE 1977)
Chairman & CEO

John Jaggers, Rice Board of Trustees Emeritus (BSEE 1973, MEE 1973)
General Partner
Sevin Rosen Funds
Vice President
SRB Management Company

P.R. Kumar, NAE
Professor and College of Engineering Chair in Computer Engineering
Texas A&M University

Michal Lipson, MacArthur Genius Award
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Columbia University

Margaret Murnane, NAS
JILA Fellow; Professor of Physics and Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of Colorado

Partha Ranganathan (MS 1997, PhD 2001)
Distinguished Engineer

Dr. Steve Sheafor (BA 1972, MEE 1972)
Chief Technical Advisor, Ambiq Micro
Principal, FLS Associates

Dr. Len Srnka
Professor in the Practice

Dr. Turner Whitted, NAE