When the White House Calls

A call from the Federal Communications Commission interrupted Eric Burger’s career in research and development and academia to become the Chief Technical Officer of the Federal Communications Commission—the principal technology advisor to the commission.

“I was recruited specifically to help the commission craft regulations to mitigate the scourge of illegal robocalling, many based on my academic research,” he says.

“My most proud accomplishment was helping to craft the regulations to implement 988, the national suicide prevention hotline,” Burger says. “There are not many jobs available outside of being an emergency room doctor where one can say that what they do will save or improve the outcomes for thousands of people per year.”

As he was wrapping up these projects, the White House called asking Burger if he would  help solve a decades–long problem of making spectrum available for non-federal users. Burger was able to return more than $20 billion in allocated funds back into the United States Treasury after the project was completed. When the COVID–19 pandemic emerged, his focus pivoted to deploy telehealth and other emergency broadband issues.

Burger studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium before earning his Ph.D. at Illinois Tech later in his career. He says Illinois Tech is very different from most universities as it helps students from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“Illinois Tech provides opportunities for all non–traditional students, whether it being older or from alternative backgrounds, compared to the ‘typical’ elite university profile,” he says. “Looking at my Illinois Tech cohort, I had two people who both were first in their families to attend college, no less graduating with honors with a Ph.D. Both have had exemplary careers, one keeping the nation safe and the other a successful entrepreneur.”

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