Electronic Design

Students Need To Get Their Hands Dirty Too

I think that today’s graduating engineers could be better prepared. Learning formulas and practicing book problems, while sometimes necessary, do little to prepare for actual design and real-world issues. The best way to learn about electronics and engineering is to build a circuit while learning about the relevant design principles. 

For example, I recently built a switching power supply for nixie tubes. At first, inductors were somewhat of a mystery to me. As I started to build the power supply, though, I was forced to learn about how the various components worked in a way that was highly relative to the task at hand. Looking at actual traces on an oscilloscope is much more stimulating than seeing waveforms in a book.

My college does a good job in keeping the physics students up to date.  The physics department hosts a weekly seminar, which is usually related to new technology. A Kenyon graduate working at the Kent State LCD program recently presented one such seminar.

A combination of tinkering and academia is the best way to build student interest and learn about engineering at the same time. All the classes in the world will not help if no students are interested in the first place. Tinkering and building projects is a necessary step in holding students’ attention.

Learning about how a transistor works and then doing a simple project is always somewhat boring. Instead, the students should learn about transistors while doing a project. In a textbook, hfe is just a strange number. But in real life, students can actually see the effects of different gains or base currents.  This has the effect of connecting a tangible effect with the idea the instructor is trying to teach.

Finally, young blood is very important to workplace dynamics. Young people need to be able to learn from older, more experienced engineers. Tips and tricks of the trade cannot be taught in a school environment and could be lost if not passed down to the newest generation. Young engineers can also bring fresh ideas with them, stimulating the more experienced engineers.

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