Eta Kappa Nu, the academic honor society associated with the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, has had several pivotal inventors among its ranks. Intel founder Gordon Moore, father of the Internet Vinton Cerf, and Google founder Larry Page were all members of the society in their younger days.
Each of them represents an entire generation of electrical engineers that helped weave technology into our everyday lives and culture. But at the same time, they all entered electrical engineering before its growth as a profession began to stall. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that electrical engineers will have roughly 316,000 jobs available this year, and that number will remain mostly unchanged for the next decade.
For that reason, IEEE-HKN's mission is perhaps more relevant today than when it was founded in 1904. The society encourages its members not only to prepare for careers in electrical engineering, but also to cultivate a sense of scholarship and creativity. The goal is for students to leave undergraduate and graduate work as “complete technical professionals.”
Responding to rallying cries for more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in the United States, the society highlights what students have done themselves to prepare for engineering careers. The society recently honored 22 of the 230 chapters from around the country for service to their communities and universities. The Outstanding Chapter Awards were awarded for things like organizing talks with industry experts, holding career fairs, and reaching out to local middle schools and high schools.
These were among the activities organized by Sara Kouroupis, a recent graduate of Auburn University who held leadership positions with the university’s Xi chapter. This week, the society awarded her the 2015 Alton B. Zerby and Carl T. Koener Outstanding Student Award, an individual award for one of the nation’s top electrical engineering students.
“Sara excels in the classroom, but she is also willing to take on additional responsibilities as a tutor and IEEE officer,” Michael Baginski, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Auburn, said in a statement. “I have no doubt Sara will be a highly successful scientist and engineer.”
Having earned her undergraduate degree from Auburn, Kouroupis started her graduate work last fall in the Applied Physics Laboratory at John Hopkins University. She entered the laboratory’s Discovery Program, which rotates students through a wide range of different projects. Her master’s degree is focused on signals and control systems.
Gravitating toward defense systems, she started in the Space Department, calibrating sensors and modeling signature data on the Space-Based Kill Assessment, a project associated with the Ballistic Missile Defense System. In recent months, she has moved onto satellite projects and will soon begin working on submarine systems.
Kouroupis said in an interview that “there was no dramatic moment” or impassioned story behind her decision to study electrical engineering. Her first love was mathematics, and she felt that electrical engineering would allow her to stay involved with it after graduation. She also had support from her parents, with her father working as a mechanical engineer and her mother as an electrical engineer.
While she was conscious of the gender divide in electrical engineering, she “never really felt intimidated. I more focused on class. I took it as a challenge.” Kouroupis, a member of the Society of Women Engineers, said she was so consumed by the technological ciphers involved with engineering, that she “didn’t really worry about perception.” The award she received serves as subtle reminder of the gender divide, though, as she was the only woman nominated out of the six finalists.
She received her award this week in a ceremony during the annual meeting of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association in La Jolla, Calif. Eta Kappa Nu also presented individual chapters with their awards.