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Engineer Who Helped Refine Satellite Navigation Earns Teaching Honor

March 10, 2009

By Russ L. Hudson

Mohinder Grewal

Mohinder Grewal, a 35-year faculty veteran, recently received the Excellence in Engineering Education Award, the highest education award given by the Orange County Engineering Council, the umbrella organization for the engineering- and technology-rich county’s dozens of engineering groups, corporations and educational institutions.

“A national and international icon,” “state of the art and interesting” and “distinguished” are words used by peers to describe his contributions to engineering and his teaching.

Engineering Council President Peter Kurzhals pointed out that GPS World magazine named Grewal one of the “50+ Leaders to Watch” in the world last year for innovations in satellite navigation. Over the last 20 years, Grewal has refined GPS navigation for commercial aircraft through the Wide Area Augmentation System from being accurate to within 30 meters to accurate within inches. His refinements, Kurzhals noted, made onboard automobile navigation systems and GPS in cell phones as useful as they are today.

“As a dedicated teacher, respected engineering professional and a national and international icon in his field, he is truly deserving of this prestigious honor,” Kurzhals said. The Engineering Council made the award February 20.

When he learned he was to be a recipient of the award, Grewal was a bit taken aback. “I was humbled by it,” he said. “Of all the excellent choices they had, they chose me.”

Then he gave credit to others. “But, really,” he said, “I think it was my students. I have had so many good ones, and they made me think and delve. They asked questions I couldn’t answer, and in trying to find answers, I was sent in new directions. As they developed, they worked with me, and many of them now are successful at places like Raytheon and Boeing and other corporations, and as educators. I still work on projects with some of them.”

Student Praise

Former students and alumni like Laura Cheung (M.S. electrical engineering ’01), principal systems engineer for Raytheon Co., who has known Grewal for a decade as a student, a mentor and a colleague, couldn't say enough.

Cheung was lavish in her praise: "As his student at Cal State Fullerton, I benefited greatly from Dr. Grewal's instruction, learning fundamental principles of Kalman filtering and GPS studies from the man who 'wrote the book' for the industry ... Professor Grewal’s exemplary work in developing and teaching GPS and Kalman filtering classes has made CSUF one of just a few universities in North America to offer such high quality and valuable GPS instruction."

"Dr. Grewal has been a great professor and mentor to me," said senior electrical engineering major Josh Weaver. "He saw the interest I was taking in his GPS course and recommended me to an engineering firm looking for some help with algorithms. The firm doesn't want me to mention their name yet, but I can say I took it on as my senior project. He continues to help me, even though he is technically on sabbatical this semester. His devotion to students who want to learn and gain experience is top notch."

“Dr. Grewal was a very good, inspirational teacher, and was always accessible,” said roboticist Sam Rokni (B.S., M.S. electrical engineering ’05, ’07), a lecturer in the same department as Grewal.

His professor showed him connections he hadn't yet considered in his field of interest, robotics. Incorporating global positioning satellites like those used for airplane navigation, package tracking and cell phones was a big one, Rokni said.

"He’s so knowledgeable in that area, and helped me see how it could apply to my field. An excellent example of that on campus is a lawnmower project — it is GPS-guided, no driver needed.”

Further Recognition

In another nod to his internationally recognized expertise, Ohio State University asked Grewal to make the keynote address at its March 3 Geodetic Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering Joint Colloquium. His presentation focused on improvements to the Kalman Filter, the mathematical algorithm that makes navigation of aircraft so accurate. OSU also asked Grewal to work on satellite navigation research with the university over the next year.

Grewal has written multiple editions of two books, both used by professionals and educators internationally, “Global Positioning Systems, Inertial Navigation and Integration” and “Kalman Filtering: Theory and Practice Using MATLAB.” Both are published by John Wiley and sons.

The professor also authored and co-authored dozens of articles and papers on navigation and global positioning and has given many presentations, lectures and seminars.

Grewal earned his doctorate at USC and joined the Cal State Fullerton faculty in 1975.

The OCEC award is no stranger to Cal State Fullerton's College of Engineering and Computer Science. Other recipients are: Maqsood Chaudry, professor of electrical engineering; Pinaki Chakrabarti, chair and professor of civil and environmental engineering; Chandrasekhar Putcha, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Jesa Kreiner, professor of mechanical engineering; and James Rizza, emeritus professor of mechanical engineering.

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