Student Q&A: Avpreet Othee

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Indoor portrait of Avpreet Othee
Avpreet Othee, a Ph.D. student in systems engineering, researches power system modeling and energy efficiency analysis in commercial buildings. Photo credit: Avpreet Othee 

Avpreet Othee is a third year Ph.D. student in the systems engineering department. He earned his bachelor’s in electronics engineering from Punjab Technical University and his master’s in electrical engineering with a concentration in control systems and power electronics at CSU. 

He researches power system modeling and energy efficiency analysis in commercial buildings. 

What is your research area? What drew you to this research area?

As part of my research, I have developed a modeling toolkit for AC and DC electrical distributions that is written in a modeling language called Modelica. The toolkit is called BEEAM, an acronym for Building Electrical Efficiency Analysis Model. Using the toolkit, one can model AC distributions containing nonlinear electrical loads.

My background is in electrical engineering and I have had keen interest in system modeling and simulation. The research area of power system modeling was therefore  very appealing as it incorporated all the aspects that I had expertise in.

How do you incorporate systems thinking into your everyday life?

I have tried to incorporate systems thinking in my life. One example would be, I am volunteering as an Engineer in Residence for the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. When I look at the preliminary project designs, they usually have a tendency to look at projects in isolation. I always encourage them to look at the problem as a system and how that system interacts with other aspects, thus making a systems of systems. This systems based approach is necessary as no engineer lives in an isolated world.

What drew you to study systems engineering?

I was always interested in integrated systems and holistic product design. Early on in my career, I was involved in electrical design in consumer electronics and I realized that a successful design must involve different systems working together during the design process. I always wanted to work in control systems and during my master’s I got to work on complex system simulations involving control system design, power electronics and thermal system modeling. This sparked my interest in systems engineering.

Any advice for new SE Ph.D. students?

My advice would be, never get intimidated by anything and be prepared to learn new things. As systems engineers, we must have the knowledge of complex system interactions.

Sometimes, the systems at hand might be alien to us, or we might not have adequate knowledge about them. Instead of panicking and giving up, use the available resources from the department and the university and spend time learning and get a working knowledge of those. An advice on courses: take at least one course on optimization.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working/in class?

I like traveling a lot. Whenever I get time, I will hop into my car and go scouting for a mountain trail. Also, when I am not working, I do freelance work for my friend on electrical designs. I want to put my knowledge to work and use it for the betterment of society. I have been working on developing advanced power electronic devices for low budget customers. 

Who inspires you?

A lot of people. Dr. Cale, my advisor, has been really encouraging and he has inspired me to take on challenges that seemed intimidating at first. It is inspiring to see other researchers in my field and other fields – it inspires me to keep learning. My wife has been my constant companion, and inspiration, and lastly, my parents. 

What’s a fun fact about you people may not know?

I am a politics nerd. I have keen interest in energy and education policy as I believe these areas has the biggest impact on people’s lives. Energy policy affects each and every person and given the effect of climate change as the result of human actions, it is even more important than ever to have an energy policy that emphasizes on the use sustainable energy sources. As for education, I think it is the best tool to empower people and upliftment of marginalized communities.