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KU Offers Young Family Support, Resources

February 18, 2013

Two-year-old Sammy proudly announces his friends are at Hilltop, the KU campus day care, where he spends part of his days. The sweet boy with a huge smile is the child of EECS doctoral students Mahmood Hameed and Aqsa Patel. While Lawrence is the only home Sammy has known, his parents’ journey began on the other side of the world.

The two met as freshman in 2001 at Osmania University in Hyderabad, India. As electronics and communication engineering (ECE) majors, the two were placed in the same classroom. To maximize resources and students’ time at the small college, professors move from classroom to classroom. The students stay in the same class throughout their tenure at Osmania, encouraging friendships among the 65 ECE students.

Hameed wanted to continue learning and thought the United States offered him the best opportunities. He chose KU because of its accomplished faculty, particularly, EECS Distinguished Professor Sam Shanmugan, whose textbooks are used at Osmania. Additionally, Osmania alumna Amena Kauser (MSEE ’06) came to KU for her graduate degree and spoke well of the EECS Department.

Patel opted for graduate work in the States as well. She selected the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for its strong EECS program, location, and diversity. She felt her undergraduate degree had given her a good foundation in theory and she was looking forward to immersing herself in research under faculty mentorship.

Mahmood Hameed (left), their son, Sammy, and Aqsa Patel attend the KU India Club’s DIYA celebration, in honor of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, in November at the Kansas Union.
Mahmood Hameed (left), their son, Sammy, and Aqsa Patel attend the KU India Club’s DIYA celebration, in honor of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, in November at the Kansas Union.

Unfortunately, the available research opportunities and student-to-faculty ratio were not what she expected and after talking to Hameed about his experiences at KU as well as the research opportunities with EECS faculty, she decided to transfer in the spring of 2006.

After Patel transferred, the two friends soon began dating. They married in Hyderabad in November of 2008. It was a traditional Hyderabadi wedding, a five-day event with ceremonies and rituals, delicious mughlai food, and brightly colored outfits.

Hameed graduated with his master’s degree in electrical engineering in the spring of 2008 and started as a Network Engineer at Sprint. A mix up with Hameed’s visa paperwork left him stranded in India for four months after their wedding. A recession then led to layoffs at Sprint, including the waylaid Hameed. He describes it as one of the low points of his life, watching helplessly as everything he had worked for disappeared.

The following spring Patel graduated with her master’s degree in electrical engineering, and the couple reassessed their future. After talking to EECS faculty who encouraged them to continue their education, they decided to stay at KU for their doctorates in electrical engineering.

The new doctoral students received some life changing news that fall: they were going to be parents. Sameer, nicknamed Sammy, was born on May 25, 2010. During the first year of Sammy’s life, Hameed’s mother came over for an extended stay. She offered much needed help and support for the new parents. Like many first-time parents, they were exhausted and struggled to keep up with classes and research.

“I was worried that I was not taking care of the baby properly. I felt like the days flew by, and there was no time to sit down and relax. It was very exhausting and exciting,” says Patel.

Over time they got the hang of things and started to piece together a schedule that worked for Sammy and them. These days the morning routine usually begins with Sammy greeting them with “Mommy, wake up the sun is up.” They credit their little one for helping them stay organized. In order to be able to spend quality time with Sammy during the evening, they keep to a strict schedule during the day. Less time has made them more productive, says Hameed, who jokes they only thought they were busy in their pre-Sammy years.

“Having a family in graduate school requires a lot of sacrifices. We are very lucky to have understanding professors, an excellent day care facility, and a strong group of friends,” says Hameed.

They each conduct research with internationally recognized EECS faculty members. Under the direction of Professor Ron Hui, Hameed is developing different techniques to process the massive amounts of data being pushed through fiber-optic cables. He is working on various aspects of a communication system, including modulation and pre-filtering at the transmitter and various signal processing algorithms to compensate for fiber impairments at the receiver. The research aims to increase the capacity and efficiency of high-speed data transmission to support a wide range of applications, from broadband Internet to biomedical devices that improve diagnosis and treatment.

At the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS), Patel has designed and developed the Ku-band radar. The radar measures variation in ice sheet surface elevation, near-surface internal layers, and snow cover over sea ice. It collects data over polar ice with a range resolution of five centimeters or less in snow. CReSIS Director Prasad Gogenini and Deputy Director Carl Leuschen guide her research.

In addition to research, the couple juggles various responsibilities each semester. Hameed has been the graduate teaching assistant (GTA) for Signal and System Analysis (EECS 360) for the last two years. His strong evaluations and desire to teach led to him to be selected as a GTA for the Introduction to Digital Logic Design (EECS 140) lab this fall.

“I don’t think of it as a job but more like an opportunity,” said Hameed. “I am continually thinking of ways to make things interesting for students that will help them grasp and retain concepts.”

Patel serves as an appointed Senator for the Stouffer Place Association at Student Senate, actively representing residents— graduate students, students with children, post-doctoral researchers, and non-traditional students—in the KU Student Senate. Stouffer Place and Hilltop are among the amazing resources that KU has to offer a young family, says Patel. The family spends many nice days at the Stouffer playground. The Stouffer families, who are all far from home, rely on one another and form a makeshift family.

Sammy has made many friends in his first two years. His parents are thankful for such a wonderful day care a few feet from their apartment. With both Hameed and Patel expecting to graduate in 2014 and most likely move out of state, Sammy may not remember his days in Lawrence, but his parents will remind him of his first few years spent as part of the Jayhawk nation.

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