Signals, Systems and Music
Stephen and Ruth Dyer returned to K-State in 1983 to be faculty members in what is today its Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Over his career, Steve has held various faculty appointments in physics, mathematics, and electrical and computer engineering. He has taught about 70 different courses, some of them in many significant variations, and some of them for more than ten times. One of his major emphases, no matter which course, is on making connections―relating what we’re trying to learn or do to other knowledge or experience we already have. Another major emphasis is on rediscovering our innate creativity.
Disciplinary boundaries are somewhat artificial, established as a result of organization and out of the convenience of compartmentalization. But creativity has no disciplinary boundaries.
Signals, Systems and Music is an experimental, multi-campus, cross-disciplinary course designed to attract STEM students as well as students of the arts; to expose them to concepts important to both their own and someone else’s discipline of interest;
to give them the challenge of working with someone from a different discipline; to help them find ways to communicate with others without having a common language; to aid them in undertaking the act of creation to produce something of value, in this case a musical composition; and, finally, to encourage them to reflect on the connections and commonalities between two distinct disciplines, crushing stereotypes in the process.
Signals, Systems and Music has been offered in several variations at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, and Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, as an experiment, with funding provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The basic concept is to bring students from two seemingly disparate disciplines together into an active setting in which they could not just learn about, but actually experience something of, each other’s chosen field. In this case, the disciplines are music and engineering.
Craig Weston, associate professor of music, Fred Burrack, professor of music and K-State’s director of assessment, and Dyer are involved in K-State’s offerings. Linda Head and Phil Mease have principal responsibility for Rowan University’s versions of the course. Composer and musician Ken Medema acted, for the duration of the NSF grant, as consultant to both universities.
More information about the courses, including some audio files of the students’ compositions, can be found at
A related profile of Dyer, published in IEEE’s The Institute, is available at