Professor Profile: Michael Morrow

glimpse into the anything-but-ordinary life of one of electrical engineering’s most loved.

By Mikaela O'Keefe
mar14profmorrow1web.jpg

“I am definitely not your typical university engineering professor.” Professor Michael Morrow, a faculty associate in the department of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison, speaks these words, and they could not be truer. After just a few minutes of conversation, it becomes apparent that Professor Morrow is a multifaceted, passionate man with a fascinating story, and it is easy to understand why he is the favorite professor of many students in the electrical and computer engineering department.

mar14profmorrow3web.jpg

The path that Professor Morrow took on the way to his current position at UW-Madison was unconventional. At first, he did not even have any intention of becoming an engineer due to the fact that “they were too theoretical,” says Professor Morrow. Instead, he enlisted in the Navy and became an electronic technician. After a few years, he went back to school and became an electrical engineer. From there, Professor Morrow casually mentions that he spent “a year in Washington State, two years in the Aleutian Islands, a year in charge of the McMurdo Research facility in Antarctica, and some time in Bosnia taking care of the Vice President’s house.”

Now at UW-Madison, Professor Morrow primarily uses his time to restructure and teach a circuit analysis course. He converted it from a class with four lectures into a blended learning course with two traditional lectures and two sessions in the WisCEL (Wisconsin Collaboratory for Enhanced Learning). During their time at WisCEL, students work on Moodle, an online course database, solving electronic exercises that Professor Morrow has designed specifically to call attention to any deficits in understanding. The environment is very collaborative, with, as Professor Morrow says, “90 percent of the teaching done by the students.” When any issues arise, students are able to help each other first, but Professor Morrow and his TAs are always available to help.

In designing the class, Professor Morrow worked off of the idea that “you just learn better by doing stuff—as long as you have a starting point.” The alternative, hands-on structure of the class has been well received by students. When speaking of the circuit course, a past student says, “It’s the hardest you’re going to work in a class like that, but it’s also the most you’re ever going to learn.” Obviously, the drastic alteration that was made in the class was an effective one.

Aside from his primary work at the university, Professor Morrow keeps himself busy with a multitude of different things. He owns and operates a small business, Educational DSP, that sells hardware and software tools for signal processing in education.

Professor Morrow and his wife, Professor Katherine Morrow, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison, travel frequently. Their favorite destination is Italy, and he estimates that they have spent three months there in the past two years. The pair has also recently converted a cheese factory into a live-work facility. While at home, Professor Morrow spends time constructing his own airplane, complete with his own custom electronic interfaces.

mar14profmorrow2web.jpg

He brings many of his personal interests and passions to his work at the university as well. Once, he flew a student from Madison to Sheboygan to simply get an ice cream cone. On another occasion, he brought students to his own personal woodshop while he was teaching a woodworking class. Stories like this show Professor Morrow’s genuine interest in his undergraduate students.

In his own words, Professor Morrow says that his life has been a compilation of “opportunities that [he] took advantage of.” From a surprise lunch with Ronald Reagan to a two-year stint in the isolated Aleutian Islands, he has always approached opportunities with an open-minded attitude and tries to make the best of the situation. Looking back on his accomplishments, Professor Morrow reflects, “When I was younger, I could not fathom that this could actually be possible. I could not have imagined what I have been to and done.”