Notre Dame computer engineering professor partners with HBCUs to grow the U.S. microelectronics workforce

A chip layout featuring the Notre Dame monogram drawn from Morrison's Digital Integrated Circuits course

When it comes to making semiconductor chips in the United States, “we need all hands on deck,” says Matthew Morrison, associate teaching professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Notre Dame.

Morrison explains that although the U.S. government passed the CHIPS and Science Act, which will direct billions of dollars to support chip research, innovation, and manufacturing, “the big question is whether we will have the right people trained and ready. If we continue to educate students in microelectronics at current rates, we will fall 58 percent short by 2030.”

Morrison recently joined Apple’s Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI). The initiative provides $50 million to support science, technology, engineering, arts, and math opportunities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs).

Through the initiative, Morrison is providing curriculum for semiconductor design that participating colleges and universities can use to develop programs for the next generation of chip designers.

Currently, Tennessee State University and nine other HBCUs have partnered with Morrison.

“Essentially, students are learning to use software to design hardware,” Morrison explains. His curriculum is designed to help students who are new to a field learn about the layout and manufacturing of a semiconductor chip in an engaging, interactive way.

By focusing specifically on semiconductor design, Morrison points out, students encounter a wealth of opportunities and career options.

Matthew Morrison
Matthew Morrison, associate teaching professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Notre Dame

“Semiconductor design is the front porch to the whole universe of microelectronics. By learning first about design, you can get started even if you are hundreds of miles from the nearest clean room. You can work in many different areas of the industry, and companies are desperate for talent.”

The idea of “all hands on deck” has special resonance for Morrison, who began his career by serving in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear reactor technician.

“My experience transitioning into a new career and into civilian life also helps me appreciate the hurdles people face as they consider entering a new field,” Morrison explains.

After leaving the Navy, Morrison earned his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in computer science and engineering and began teaching at the University of Mississippi. Right away, he began doing outreach and education with high school students from rural areas of the Mississippi delta.

“The talent is there,” says Morrison. “They just need the tools in their hands, and they will rise to the occasion.”

For Morrison, his efforts to support the next generation of semiconductor design and manufacturing is an integral part of his work at Notre Dame.

“Part of Notre Dame’s mission is to provide science and engineering for a world deeply in need,” Morrison says. “It means a lot to me that through this initiative we are a force multiplier. We are empowering people around the country to live fuller lives even if they never step foot on Notre Dame’s campus.”

Brett Beasley — Notre Dame Research