Peter Aaen is a professor and department head at the Colorado School of Mines’ Electrical Engineering Department, a position he started in 2019.
When he began his doctoral studies at ASU in the late 1990s, he worked full time at Motorola as an RF packaging engineer. At the time, Aaen never envisioned an academic career and had no intention of giving up his private industry job.
He credits ASU’s flexible learning options, even before the days of online programs, to his ability to keep both his job and finish his doctorate in electrical engineering, which he graduated with in 2005. Aaen was part of the precursor to ASU Online, a program known as TV Classes and offered in partnership with local companies. It allowed engineering professionals to study while keeping their jobs, a rarity at the time for a doctoral program with the same standards as an on-campus degree.
“All the lectures were broadcast, and you could see them on closed circuit TV at your workplace,” Aaen says. “If you missed the lecture, you could go to the library and check out the VHS tape for 24 hours to catch up on your lecture.”
After graduation, the desire to switch careers to a university environment wasn’t immediate for him. When Motorola sold their semiconductor division to become Freescale Semiconductor in 2003, now known as NXP Semiconductors, Aaen continued to work as an RF engineer.
He later managed the RF modeling and measurement technology team until 2013. It was then that he wanted to take his career in a more academic direction.
“Industry is very competitive, very short cycle. I wanted to try some longer duration projects that were much more research-oriented,” Aaen says.
His search for an academic position led him to the University of Surrey in the U.K. There, Aaen worked in a senior academic position with the British rank of “reader” at the school and took on the lead role in the Theory and Computation Group. But soon, he was ready for another challenge.
While keeping his job at the University of Surrey, in 2016 he started a position as a director for the National Physical Laboratory. In this position at a regional center in Southern England, Aaen helped startup businesses get up and running to conduct research in their chosen fields.
However, in 2019, Aaen and his wife began to miss their home country and decided to move back.
“I had quite a lot of experience in industry and academia and then at national laboratories, so I was a good fit for a department head,” he says. “Being able to drive research in industry in a university as well as manage large groups of people, I think that gave me a good skill set to come to the Colorado School of Mines.”
Aaen praises his experience at ASU as an environment conducive to learning. He says faculty members were kind and interested in his academic experiences while providing a rigorous education. He specifically appreciates his experiences with Rodolfo Diaz, James Aberle and Stephen Goodnick, as well as his thesis advisor, Constantine Balanis.
Aaen says that while Balanis had a great sense of humor, cracking jokes and remaining upbeat, he balanced his demeanor with thorough academic rigor.
“The first paper that I wrote, there was so much red ink from edits on it that it was almost like somebody bled on the page,” Aaen says.
Balanis himself fondly remembers Aaen as a great student. Aaen’s dissertation on refining the design process for cell phone towers to more heavily incorporate computer-aided design led to publication in academic journals.
“Peter has done extremely well before, during and after his days at ASU,” Balanis says. “I am very proud to have served as his PhD research advisor.”