Brandon Ung awarded IEEE Life Members Graduate Study Fellowship

Graduate student Brandon Ung has been awarded the IEEE Life Members Graduate Study Fellowship in Electrical Engineering by the IEEE Educational Activities Board. Established in 2000, the fellowship recognizes the exceptional achievements of a student in their first year of a graduate program in any area of electrical engineering. 

Ung’s interests lie in VLSI, computer architecture, and machine learning, areas that are critical to advances in the 5G, data center, and automotive industries. Currently, working under the guidance of Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Erwin A. Kelen Chair in Electrical Engineering Keshab Parhi, he has been focusing his energy on hyperdimensional computing, an emerging brain-inspired paradigm used for machine learning classification tasks, which allows for fast learning, energy efficiency, noise tolerance, and a highly parallel distributed framework. 

Ung, the son of Cambodian refugees, is a first generation university student. Although he did not have any engineers in the family to trigger his interest in any kind of engineering, there were several experiences throughout his growing years that guided him to where he is today. As a young child, he remembers playing with his computer and all things electronic; it always felt natural to him. The interest solidified over the years and when Ung was in high school, his first job involved figuring out electronics parts lists for projects and the impact of different parts on device performance. Of course, he found all of this fascinating. But the clincher came when Ung took a course on renewable energy through the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering as a PSEO (postsecondary enrollment options) student. For his final project, Ung built a solar phone charger. It was his first time building a  circuit, and he found aspects such as learning to measure voltage and current captivating. The experience was compelling enough for him to choose electrical engineering as an academic path. The goal was to eventually work in an area that would allow him to enrich human lives through several avenues. 

Like most students in the electrical engineering major, Ung joined UMN IEEE, the student branch chapter of IEEE at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. This was followed by an invitation to join the Omicron chapter of IEEE-HKN, IEEE’s honor society. But things did not end with simply joining the groups. Ung has been an active member and leader of both groups. As a chair of UMN IEEE, Ung with the support of the group’s officers has been pivotal in organizing activities and events that further student interests, career preparation, skills development, and community engagement. As a tutor for HKN, Ung has provided academic support to students within the electrical engineering and computer engineering majors in our department. 

Ung considers participation in these groups as vital to both academic and career enrichment: “I would encourage every student in electrical engineering to become active and involved in these groups because they provide a great network and many opportunities like this fellowship.”

Ung views the IEEE fellowship as the outcome of not simply his strong academic performance, but also his deep and sustained engagement with the UMN IEEE student branch and IEEE-HKN. He also acknowledges the critical role played by faculty and the support of his friends and classmates within ECE in the success he has enjoyed in his curricular and co-curricular activities. Needless to say, Ung is delighted about receiving the  IEEE Life Members Graduate Study Fellowship. It will certainly ease his financial burden as he completes his master’s degree, but the honor is particularly meaningful for him at a personal level too.

As Ung puts it: “Being a fellowship recipient has made my parents proud. Their education was taken away from them when they became refugees, but they now have a child who has received a graduate fellowship.”

Brandon Ung is no stranger to awards and recognition. Some of the other honors he has received include the University of Minnesota Presidential Scholarship, Robert E. Rice Scholarship, Vojta Family Engineering Scholarship, Colonel Brown Scholarship, HKN Tutoring Scholarship, Roger Nordby ECE Undergraduate Scholarship, and Carl E. and Ethel A. Swanson Electrical Engineering Scholarship. He has featured on the Dean’s List, pursued an NSF REU, and earned his bachelor’s degree with distinction. He has also interned with Marvell Technology and Analog Devices. 

The 2022 IEEE Educational Activities Board award presentation ceremony will be held in November, in Vancouver, Canada.

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