Persistence leads to success for NSF fellow

Mike SteffenMike Steffen, in his second year as an Iowa State University graduate student in computer engineering, is a newly designated National Science Foundation (NSF) fellow. A year of experience proved valuable for Steffen, who was unsuccessful in his first try for the fellowship.

Rather than be discouraged, Steffen resolved to reapply. He distinguished himself during his first year of graduate study. Steffen taught more than 100 freshman engineering students as a teaching assistant, maintained a strong academic performance, worked on refining his research interests, and revised his NSF application for resubmission. Through his teaching experience, Steffen was able to demonstrate his broad impact on engineering students. He also was able to write with greater knowledge about his research plan. Joseph Zambreno, assistant professor in ECpE, is Steffen’s major professor and a past recipient of an NSF fellowship. He provided invaluable mentoring to Steffen during the application process.

Persistence paid off. Steffen’s prestigious NSF fellowship will provide his tuition, a stipend, and an educational allotment for three years. His goal is to develop expertise in computer graphics architecture at Iowa State that will benefit future engineers. The vision and support of the NSF is helping him to attain his goals.

Networking has also been invaluable to Steffen, as can be seen in his decision to become a computer engineering graduate student at Iowa State. When it came time to choose a baccalaureate institution, Steffen chose Valparaiso University, a small Lutheran college in Valparaiso, Indiana, recognized for integrating a liberal arts education with professional preparation. Valparaiso has no graduate program but offers one-credit courses in which faculty present an overview of their research. Steffen enrolled in a course on virtual reality offered by Associate Professor Jeffrey Will in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Steffen had an interest in computer graphics and expressed to Will his interest in knowing more. Will, working under an NSF grant to research virtual reality in education, invited Steffen to work with him. Steffen developed his own undergraduate research project, during which he created a virtual environment of an agricultural site in Sapporo, Japan, and was able to use a 3-D stereovision virtual environment in Indiana to operate farm machinery in Japan. Steffen made the most of this opportunity, traveling to Japan for two weeks and presenting his research at two national conferences.

Two Iowa State University alumni on the faculty at Valparaiso, Peter Johnson (ME’03) and Richard Freeman (BSECpE’88/PhDECpE’04), encouraged Steffen to look at Iowa State for graduate school. They thought his interest in designing architecture for computer graphics was a good match for the computer engineering program at Iowa State. Steffen is enthusiastic about the opportunities he is discovering at Iowa State as he pursues his interests in computer graphics architecture.