Engineering teacher by day, jazz musician by night | Information Center


Barry Dorr works his childhood passion for music into his teaching for senior design projects.

Have you ever wondered what your class instructor does in his spare time? Electrical and computer engineering lecturer Barry Dorr shares his love and passion for music by performing at local jazz clubs with the band Jive Chops.

He emphasizes his enthusiasm when teaching classes as he can incorporate his interest in acoustics and psycho-acoustics of music into his own senior design class projects.

Senior SDSU Computer Engineering Audrey Chuakay spoke with Dorr after one of her performances about how her experiences in the world of engineering and her trombone complement each other.

Tell me about what you do here at SDSU.

My main responsibility is the Senior Design Program, our capstone program for students that helps them cross the bridge between academia and industry. I have about 150 students at a time who are divided into groups of five, all working on different projects. So I “keep a lot of cats” because it’s important that I stay technically involved in all the projects to give the students the guidance they need. In senior design, we teach our seniors about project management, teach them about teamwork and leadership skills, and then ask them to apply what they learn to completing a project.

Tell me about your musical hobby. What instruments do you play?

In my other life, I am a studio musician: I play the trombone. When I was a kid there was an old trombone sitting around the house and I was the youngest of four. My parents said, “If you want to play in the band, we don’t buy another instrument. I was 11 and my parents made me play for a year and then it was like pulling the cord on a lawnmower and starting it. At the age of 12, I knew I would do this all my life.

As a kid, all I wanted to do was play music and work on cars and motorcycles. By the time I got to my senior year in high school, I really struggled with whether to be an engineer or a musician. And I asked my father, he was a very eccentric physicist. “Do you think I should go for a degree in music, or should I become an engineer?”

He said, “You have to follow your passion. Whatever you love the most, you will do the best things. So, as a high school student, I was like, “Well, that didn’t help me much,” but it forced me to realize that my first love is engineering and math. And just the simple joy of building and creating things. I have always loved music.

How is your trombone and musical knowledge related to your work as an engineer?

I am very interested in the acoustics and psycho-acoustics of music. I’ve developed a guitar amplifier, I’m making powered speakers, I’m developing an audio analyzer which is actually one of my own senior design projects because I like to do senior design projects with my students . It gives me material for conferences. I love doing projects that use the technology my kids are most interested in, and it keeps my technical skills sharp and inspires students. I like to think because I do the same kind of things and work with the same tools that I asked them to do.

What is the best part of working with students at SDSU?

One of the cool things about music is that when you blow a note, it leaves your horn and never comes back. In the world of engineering, we always create, we build on things. But in music, it either landed or it didn’t. What has been wonderful is mixing my musical interests and my engineering interests with students from San Diego State. Towards the end of my career, you know, after making gadgets, gadgets, modems and all kinds of fun things. But now I’m able to mix that music and that engineering and bring it to the benefit of the students. And you can’t beat that.

Do you have any advice for those with a passion for music?

If it’s so compelling you can’t help it, go ahead and be the best at it.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. Information on Senior Design Day (Wednesday 3 May 2023) is available at the College of Engineering.

Ada J. Kenney