“Our house is where everyone in the neighborhood came to hang out,” says Terri Fiez of growing up in the small town of Cheney in Eastern Washington. That made for a lot of activity in a house of five kids. “I remember when Mt. St. Helens blew, we had 14 people in our house watching the television to see what was happening,” she says.
Being the middle child of two older and two younger brothers, she was always in the thick of it. “Chaos doesn’t bother me that much,” she says with a laugh.
In college, she waivered in her commitment to engineering when she realized chemical engineering was not for her. But after switching to education for a while, she eventually found her home in electrical engineering and received a bachelor’s and master’s from University of Idaho, Moscow. She started her career in industry, but soon realized that something was missing. “I wanted to feel like I was really making a difference in people’s lives,” she says.
Education is a core value for Fiez whose grandmother was a teacher for 36 years, her father a professor of education, and her mother an English teacher. So, it made sense to focus on academia. Both she and her husband were able to return to school together, both enrolling in graduate school at Oregon State University (his degree was in crop and soils sciences).
“It worked out great. I always wanted to work in analog and integrated circuits and one of the top guys in the country was here at OSU. I remember going to his office in Dearborn Hall and when he described to me what a project would be like, I was just sort of taken aback — thinking, ‘Wow, that would be really neat,’” she says.
Fiez’s current research focuses on wireless sensor networks that, for example, could be used to monitor building occupancy or energy use, and connect to the building’s Wi-Fi. She also works with systems that scavenge energy from the environment with devices like solar cells or piezoelectric sensors. Another research direction is in high-performance circuits for processing analog signals, like voice, and converting them to digital.
She began her academic career at Washington State University, Pullman, where she enjoyed having a large group of undergraduate and graduate students working in her lab, and creating a community there that felt like family.
“I really like that one-on-one collaboration with graduate students,” she says (having now matriculated approximately seventy graduate students in her career). But she felt there was more she could do, and came back to OSU when she had the opportunity to become the head of Electrical and Computer Engineering which later merged with computer science to become the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS).
“I saw a lot of unrealized potential here,” she says. “What I enjoy more than anything is creating and building something, and in this case it was a whole program.”
She considers the students, faculty and staff in the School as her second family, and delights in the different personalities. “You love them all,” she says.
She views the industry leaders, with whom the School has partnered, as their extended family. One of her main objectives has been to make learning more engaging and promote the kind of creativity necessary to develop leadership-ready graduates who will make a difference in the world. Under her leadership, the School has found innovative ways to get students more hands-on learning with limited funding by forming collaborations with Tektronix and Intel to support two novel programs: TekBots and the Intel Learning Company.
Another focus for Fiez has been encouraging collaborative research which, she says, is critical for addressing significant global challenges like energy security, medical advancements, and environmental sensing and monitoring. It also makes EECS a great place to work, where people build strong connections with each other through their research.
“I like to do things that have a broader impact than something that I could do myself, and work with other people to figure out how to do it,” she says.
Outside of work, Fiez enjoys spending time with her family, following the evolving interests of her two sons. Much of her large family (her mother and two brothers with their families) also live in Corvallis; so, “family is a big deal,” she says.
—By Rachel Robertson