Chase Anderson reverse engineers his way to a master's degree and an IEEE fellowship

The last few months have been rather busy and eventful for ECE graduate student Chase Anderson. He earned his undergraduate degree in computer engineering in spring 2023 (in fact he was one of our student commencement speakers for the occasion) and is currently working on his master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering. In June, in the midst of an internship with Hewlett Packard Enterprise, he received news that he was awarded the IEEE graduate fellowship. Here in his own words, he shares his interests and his path towards the major. 

Tell us a little about yourself
Hey, I’m Chase, and I’m happy to say I graduated with my bachelor's degree in computer engineering in spring 2023! I enjoy so many elements of engineering that it gets hard to keep things straight. Embedded systems, robotics, and hardware design have been my main interests. Try showing me a cool YouTube video and it’s too late; I'm already invested. 

On an average day you’re going to find me at my apartment working in my lab or at my computer, but when I want to get some fresh air I like to go out skateboarding (usually the electric kind). Living closer to downtown Minneapolis I’ve been trying to explore more of what it has to offer. Lots of parks, festivals, and interesting people to randomly chat with. I’ve really loved my time here so far, and it’s a good feeling knowing I haven’t explored everything just yet.

What have your undergraduate interests been? Have they contributed to your interest in the master’s program?
At the start of my undergraduate degree program I had so much fun in my microcontrollers class that I ended up being a teaching assistant for about two years! In my junior year I helped get a start-up going with some friends of mine after completing a UROP on a similar topic [see sidebar for more information on UROP]. Later in my degree program I got to see large-scale ASIC development, drove one of the coolest cars ever in a cross-country solar vehicle challenge, and worked with the University’s IEEE chapter to build a better professional student body. Taking on new experiences as they come and trying to make the most of it has been really important to me. And I was happy to take on the master's degree as another new and challenging experience. 

How do you feel about being awarded the IEEE Graduate Fellowship? 
I was kind of baffled initially. I'm really happy that Brandon [Ung] and I got to represent the U two years in a row. My professors must have written some impeccable recommendation letters.
[Brandon Ung, master's student in ECE, was a recipient of the fellowship in 2022]

What motivated you to pursue computer engineering in particular?
When I was around five years old my dad sat me in front of his old Gateway 2000 PC (you know the one with the cool cow print box) and opened up MS paint. Over the next hour I proceeded to make what might be the most terrible piece of art ever, but that didn’t really matter. The point was that I was having the time of my life making lights turn on and off in certain patterns that made my brain say, “Hey, this is awesome!” That's where it all started: blinking lights on and off. Whether on a grid of (at the time) just under a million pixels or a single LED connected to a 555 timer, I got to realize early that being able to interface with the world and create things from it was something I could sink my teeth into. 

Now of course creating is awesome, but often engineers start with a little something called reverse engineering. Cut to about a year later. My mom was about to start her new nursing job and got a fresh Lenovo laptop. After enjoying MS paint and a good few other applications, I just had to figure out how in the world this thing worked under the hood. So, like some of you reading this may have experience with, my ambitious six-year-old self tore off every single key of my mom's work laptop, and guess what? I found the membrane switches and tiny PCB traces while a stack of now useless keycaps piled up next to me. Needless to say, I learned a lot that day. My mom still gives me flack for it, but that’s okay. Now I receive awards for reverse engineering things!

Tell us about your role as a member and officer of the  IEEE student chapter at the University of Minnesota.
It's been a learning experience for sure, but a learning experience I’d rather not go without. Our IEEE student chapter is basically a solution for calming the nerves relating to “What in the world am I gonna do after my degree?!” Whether you need someone in industry, or a Ph.D. student to tell you about their lives, IEEE is a great place to start.

Working across three years of unique students and three teams of officers has been very enriching. Together we learned how to interact and network better with students, industry professionals, and everyone else you’ll find in between. As for myself, helping lead our student chapter has pushed me to excel as an individual who likes to teach, entertain, and listen to people’s stories. Something I personally found really beneficial was the number of role models happy to chat with students and answer burning questions. In addition to CSE and ECE career resources I think IEEE is pivotal in creating competitive and well-rounded citizens for the world.

What are some of the activities and experiences you have engaged in outside the classroom? 
Sadly or not, depending on how you look at things, most of my outside the classroom activities have been engineering related. Even with some of my more artistic interests, they all end up becoming more of a technical challenge than a creative escape. For example, even though I love film and music, I end up making a security camera out of an XBox Kinect or a synthesizer module at the Anderson Student Innovation Labs. 

And what would you like to do after graduation?
I recently accepted a full-time offer from Hewlett Packard Enterprise to work as a firmware and hardware emulation engineer and can’t wait to continue with my projects. As for a few years down the road, the sky’s the limit to be honest. I am hopeful that my interests will lead me to opportunities I couldn’t list out even if I tried!

Anything you are most proud about? 
The spring 2023 graduating cohort started our circuits courses in quite a rough place. [The cohort started their first year in college in fall 2019, and they had to take the circuits course at the peak of the pandemic.] I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say, at the time, I thought I would never take another electrical engineering class again! Whether it was life, disease, or academics causing us to feel down, I think I feel the most proud when I see our class find their passions and successes today. 

A formal award presentation ceremony will be hosted by the IEEE Educational Activities Board in November in Washington, D.C.

Learn about the IEEE Life Members Graduate Study Fellowship