Winter 2018: Jorge Poveda

Hometown: Bogotá, Colombia

Degrees: B.S. in Electronics Engineering (2012), B.S. in Mechanical Engineering (2012), M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering (2013) from University of Los Andes, Colombia and M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering (2015), UCSB

Degree sought from UCSB: Ph.D. (5th year)

Group/Advisor: Andrew R. Teel

Main area of research: Hybrid Dynamical Systems with Applications in Optimization, Learning, and Control

Research interests: Feedback control, model-free optimization and learning, analysis and control of network systems and societal systems

Dissertation title: " Robust Hybrid Systems for Control, Learning, and Optimization in Networked Dynamical Systems"

Most important publication to date: "A Framework for a class of hybrid extremum seeking controllers with dynamic inclusions,” Automatica, 2017. Jorge's personal website & publication list –

Important conferences attended: IEEE Conference on Decision and Control, American Control Conference, World Congress of the International Federation of Automatic Control

Types of financial assistance received: Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) and Teaching Assistantship (TA)

Awards & honors received: Finalist for Best Student Paper Award, IEEE Conference on Decision and Control and Outstanding Scholar Fellowship, Center for Control, Dynamical Systems and Computation, UCSB

Professional memberships: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Control Systems Society

Hobbies: Tennis, soccer, jogging, and reading

Interesting aside about Jorge: Huge fan of “Santa Fe”, the main soccer team from Bogotá

Favorite things about

ECE department: Top faculty in different areas, very friendly and efficient staff, and the great location with an ocean view

UCSB: Great location, world class research, and friendly people

Santa Barbara: Beautiful city with a lot of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, amazing landscapes, and probably the best weather in the world

Tell us about your research

I work on the analysis and development of robust control, optimization, and learning mechanisms for networked hybrid dynamical systems. These are large-scale systems that combine continuous-time dynamics (i.e., analogue) and discrete-time dynamics (i.e., digital), and they emerge in almost every engineering application where a physical system interacts with a computer. I am particularly interested in designing control and optimization strategies for hybrid systems where a precise mathematical model is not available. My research combines tools from robust control theory, optimization, network systems, and game theory.

How and why did you get into your area of research?

When I was choosing a major for my undergraduate studies I was not sure whether I wanted to be a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer. So just to be sure that I was not making a mistake, I decided to pursue both majors. Then, during my third year, I took a feedback control class with a remarkable professor who showed me that electrical and mechanical systems could both be modeled by the same equations and mathematical principles. In fact, this also holds for many biological, social, and chemical systems. In this class, I also learned that we can actually use math to design algorithms to control and optimize these systems. I found this idea fascinating.

Why did you select UCSB and ECE in regards to your research?

I met Prof. Teel during a summer course that he taught in Bogota, Colombia, in 2011. It was a graduate course in hybrid dynamical systems and I was one of the two undergraduate students taking the class. I was lucky that I had been exposed to nonlinear systems theory before, so even though I probably understood less than twenty percent of the class material, I certainly appreciated the potential of the hybrid systems theory, and I ended up using some of these ideas in my bachelor’s theses. These results ended up being presented at the IEEE Conference on Decision and Control, and there I expressed to him my desire for pursuing a Ph.D. degree under his supervision.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

I think it is always rewarding to know that you are somehow contributing answers to some of the fundamental open questions in your research area. In engineering, answering these questions can lead to the development of practical applications that may have a positive impact on the society. In fact, during my Ph.D. studies I have had the chance to closely collaborate with the industry sector, and it has been very exciting to see how some of our research ideas at UCSB can be applied to address practical engineering problems in our society.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate

I meet regularly with Prof. Teel to discuss our research. During the last 5 years he has always been supportive and willing to answer all my questions. He has been fundamental for my progress during graduate school. Additionally, he has always encouraged me to collaborate with other research groups at UCSB. In fact, our paper nominated for “Best Student Paper Award” is the result of a fruitful collaboration with the lab of Prof. Jason Marden, who essentially has been like a co-advisor to me during the last 2 years. I am a firm believer in the importance of multidisciplinary collaborations, and I think many open problems in my field require a cross-fertilization between several areas including control theory, game theory, computer sciences, economics, and social sciences. Because of this reason, I am always looking forward for new potential collaborators.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

Based on my experience, I think one of the most important things in a research environment is to find a way to be motivated and genuinely interested in your research problem. Motivation is critical to actually make the sacrifices needed to develop impactful research. Also, it is important to keep open and honest communication with your advisor. Finally, I think it is useful to exercise regularly in order to keep your mind sharp and your energy levels up.

Where will your research take you next?

I am currently in my last year as a Ph.D. student, so I am now applying for research positions in Academia and Industry.

Jorge's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the graduate program

The Center for Control, Dynamical Systems, and Computation (CCDC) at UCSB – it is comprised of world-class professors, most of whom are at the top of their respective fields. Moreover, there is also a lot of collaboration between different research groups.

Favorite course

I have three favorite courses: 1) Nonlinear control systems, by Prof. Andrew Teel, where we learn the fundamental tools to analyze nonlinear dynamical systems, as well as to design control mechanisms for this type of systems. 2) Game Theory by Prof. Joao Hespanha, where a comprehensive mathematical description of game theory is presented, and where we also have the chance to apply in a final project the material learned during the class.  3)  Network Systems by Prof. Francesco Bullo, where we study the fundamental mathematical tools to analyze networked systems via graph theory.

Experience with the graduate exams

Studying for the screening exam can be a little bit stressful mainly because there is a lot of material that needs to be reviewed. I would recommend forming a nice study group, where the collective learning experience ends up being beneficial for everybody. The qualifying exam was less stressful, and I actually had a great time having very stimulating conversations with the faculty in my committee.

Describe your experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA) and GSR

I was a TA for Feedback Control Systems: Theory and Design (147A), and Digital Control Systems: Theory and Design (147B). For both, I ran labs, graded homework, and made solutions for the homework sets. I enjoyed this experience. As a GSR, I have been doing research as part of Prof. Teel’s lab.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

Balancing work, social, and family life during grad school will always be a challenge. However, I try to go to Colombia every year to visit my family, and sometimes they also visit Santa Barbara. I make sure to talk to them every week.

Where have you lived?

I have lived at the UCSB residences during my graduate studies. This has been very convenient since they are located very close to the campus. Moreover, some of my friends from my department, as well as other departments, also live at the UCSB residences, therefore it is easy for us to meet regularly for dinner or just to relax after a deadline. 

What did you do over summer break?

During the past summer I did an internship in Boston at the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL). This was a very interesting experience, and I learned a lot from my colleagues and mentors at MERL. I also traveled to Europe to present a paper related to my research with Prof. Teel.

Advice to prospective graduate students

I think UCSB offers the complete package, i.e., top research programs with top faculty and world-class labs, one of the best locations in the United States, and a very friendly community.