PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University graduate student Mitchell Myjak got a call last month from his mother after the Department of Homeland security called her wanting to know where it could send her son a Federal Express package.
She was worried and wanted to know what was going on.
“I think they want to give me $100,000, Mom,” he told her, figuring that the agency would not send him bad news via Federal Express.
Myjak, 22, a student in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is one of about 100 people to receive a $100,000 fellowship under the Homeland Security Scholars and Fellows Program. About 2,500 students nationwide applied. Graduate award winners receive stipends and tuition, renewable for three years, in addition to internship opportunities. The fellowships are given to students who are interested in pursuing scientific and technological innovations that are in line with the mission of the Department of Homeland Security.
The graduate student, originally from Kennewick, became interested in electrical engineering at a young age. He recalls getting in trouble in kindergarten for not paying attention when he was examining overhead light fixtures, trying to figure out how to control them by separate switches. Later, he and his brother were avid model railroad fans from which he learned basics of electrical engineering. His father is an electrical engineer for the Department of Energy at Hanford, and his brother and sister-in-law are also electrical engineers.
Myjak graduated from the University of Portland as valedictorian with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 2002. While there, he analyzed a new method for embedding additional data into digital audio signals. The recording industry is particularly interested in such technology as a way to monitor music piracy. He also received a prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship.
Myjak came to WSU to pursue graduate studies under the guidance of Jose Delgado-Frias, Boeing Endowed Chair in computer engineering.
The student’s current research in the development of reconfigurable integrated circuits for specialized applications coincides with the needs of the new Department of Homeland Security. The department will want to develop a variety of devices for homeland security, ranging from hand-held radiation monitors to airborne sensing systems to emergency communications devices, Myjak said. All these devices need to use small amounts of power. They also must achieve high performance and high reliability, even in adverse conditions. Designing customized integrated circuits for each of these applications would be expensive, so Myjak hopes to create a reconfigurable circuit that would be able to reliably meet a variety of needs.
While he originally planned to become a designer of microprocessors, Myjak said he became interested in applying his expertise in electrical engineering to homeland security needs after the Sept. 11 tragedy.
“I realized that performing research for the security of my country would represent the fulfillment of my obligation as an engineer,’’ he said.
Myjak is a 1998 graduate of Kamiakin High School. He is the son of Mary and Raymond Myjak, of Kennewick.