Melvin Edwards has an electronics laboratory in his basement. He enjoys tinkering with radios and other communications devices, and even takes courses in his free time to learn more.
“I’ve been interested in electronics since high school,” said Edwards.
It’s more than just a hobby, though. Edwards earned his B.S. in electrical engineering from Wayne State, spent four years as an electromagnetic compatibility test engineering at ZF, and is working toward his master’s and doctorate. Along the way he has published a paper in one of IEEE’s top conferences in circuit design, filed a patent through WSU and, according to advisor Mohammad Alhawari, has become “one of the top M.S. students that I have worked with during the last seven years.”
In recognition of his academic and research excellence, Edwards was awarded the 2021 Dean’s Diversity Fellowship, which includes three years of funding designed to support incoming doctoral students who are advancing the mission of the university as well as their own careers through exceptional scholarly pursuits.
Edwards grew up in Michigan and graduated from Pontiac High School in 2011. After attending classes at Oakland Community College, he found his way to Wayne State in 2015 and completed his undergraduate studies two years later, maintaining a 3.94 GPA.
A 2016 co-op at ZF, a German automotive parts manufacturer with locations throughout southeast Michigan, opened the door for a full-time position with the company after graduating from WSU.
“I’m pretty happy with the work that I’ve done there and the knowledge I acquired,” said Edwards, who left ZF upon receiving the fellowship, which includes a living allowance of $27,500, tuition up to 10 graduate credits per term, as well as subsidized medical, dental and vision care insurance for 12 months per year. As an added bonus, the College of Engineering will provide two additional academic years of support after the three-year fellowship period.
Edwards has directed his focus into circuit and microchip design and development. He first became interested in this field after taking a course taught by Professor Mohammed Ismail and decided to pursue research opportunities not only in Ismail’s WINCAS Lab, but also in Alhawari’s iChip Lab.
“Melvin joined my research group without any experience in integrated circuit design. However, in a very short time, Melvin was able to progress in his research as good or even better than other students I have in the group,” said Alhawari.
In a relatively short amount of time, Edwards has acquired key skills to design sophisticated system-on-chips, which are sorely needed in a time of global shortages. He holds a patent that covers CMOS technology, a ring oscillator which creates an electronic waveform that uses less energy.
“It’s suitable in low-power circuits, such as when your laptop battery life goes below 20 percent,” he said.
Edwards is also working on edge computing technology that would make it easier for users to operate Siri or other AI-powered features on mobile devices.
“If you’re not connected to the larger network, you can’t operate Siri because the AI it uses that requires more power than the device possesses,” he explained. “Where my research comes in is to make more complicated computing tasks possible to be done on local devices.”
Edwards’ achievements in his young career stand on their own merits, but also underscore the need for greater inclusivity in STEM fields. According to the National Science Foundation, in 2019 only 4.2% of all engineering doctorates awarded in the U.S. went to African-Americans. Similarly, the tech industry has a long way to go to address diversity issues.
An African-American student of Hispanic ethnicity, Edwards was “overjoyed” to accept the Dean’s Diversity Fellowship to move into the next phase of his career.
“When I heard that I received this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I had to take it with both hands,” he said. “I feel blessed to be in this position.”