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Tom Colwell Runs Orderly, Helpful EECS Shop

August 9, 2012

The Navy veteran Tom Colwell runs the EECS Shop with precision and order. More than 300 drawers filled with resistors, capacitors, and other components are all neatly marked. The nearly floor-to-ceiling shelving in the front room also houses larger tools that each have their assigned spots.Tom Colwell

Orderliness, says Colwell, is necessary with six students rotating at the front desk. If Shop attendants had to go rummaging for parts every time, there would be a lot of unhappy students, says Colwell. He wants the Shop to run efficiently as possible to assist often stressed-out students in the middle of projects.

Located on the third floor of Eaton Hall, the EECS Shop is near the Senior Design Labs. As seniors design, build, and analyze real-world systems, they often go to the Shop for guidance.

“The EECS Shop becomes your best friend during senior year,” says Tom Willger (BSEE ’11), now a Test System Engineer at Texas Instruments. “When building your first independent circuits, there is a cruel debugging phase to achieve a fully functional circuit. Tom Colwell is the man to talk to when you need assistance. After a long night of unsuccessful debugging, Tom's words are as precious as gold.”

Each year Colwell and his staff fabricate hundreds of printed circuit boards, saving thousands of dollars in outsourcing costs. In-house milling ensures a quick turn-around of precise fabricated boards needed to operate electronic devices.

In addition to etching, milling, and other fabrication work, attendants order parts for senior design projects and prepare kits for lower-level EE and CoE labs as requested by graduate teaching assistants (GTAs). As a GTA for the Senior Design Lab, EECS doctoral student Matt Cook worked closely with Shop personnel to ensure students had the necessary equipment. A few years earlier during his own Senior Design course, EECS Shop technicians helped Cook’s team build a canned satellite containing sensors, a microcomputer, and a radio to send collected data.

“During my Senior Design class, the EECS Shop went above and beyond to accommodate my team in getting the components and tools that we needed to meet deadlines and complete the project,” said Cook. “Then as a TA for Senior Design, I worked one-on-one with the top-notch EECS Shop staff to plan and organize for the Senior Design class. I look back fondly at my experiences with Tom Colwell and EECS Shop staff.”

“If students need something, they just have to walk down the hall and ask. The Shop usually has it,” says EECS graduate student Matt Kitchen, a current GTA for the Senior Design Lab. “The shop not only provides components and test equipment but also offers solutions for prototyping circuits, such as printing and milling circuit boards. People in the shop are always knowledgeable about circuit fabrication and can offer plenty of helpful advice."

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