Electronic Design

Going (Back) To EE School? Think “Interdisciplinary”

The combination of the economic crisis and global competition has created a demand for technical professionals who possess a better balance of technical and business training. As a result, more engineering schools are cranking up their curriculums with new so-called “interdisciplinary” programs that include course options in business, engineering management, and even public policy, as well as a broader selection of technical subjects, ranging from robotics and controls to microelectronics/photonics, nanotechnology, and “green” engineering.

Are these changes the result of engineering schools that, after having done their homework, find the industry is requiring them to tweak their programs? Are they serving new markets? Or, are the schools responding to competition from other universities that have already begun to meet a perceived demand for a broader set of skills by their EE graduates?

“Yes, yes, and yes,” says Deborah Silver, director of Rutgers University’s Professional Science Master’s Program and a professor in the school’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, is responding to the needs of industry with a new graduate degree, a master of business and science (MBS).

“The degree’s modular structure allows Rutgers to combine offerings from many disciplines and quickly develop new areas of specialization in response to changing demands of industry,” says David Finegold, dean of the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, who initiated the planning for the new degree.

New tracks that are more broad-based are under development at Rutgers in other subject areas, such as information technology, nanotechnology, and actuarial sciences that will be available for the fall 2010 semester. A certificate in Science and Technology Management is now available for those with graduate degrees, but who may want to boost their business and technology credits.

Candidates for the new degree must have an undergraduate degree in engineering or another science program offered by Rutgers, but they’re not required to have enrolled in any business programs. Sub-concentrations for the MBS are communications engineering, computer engineering, digital signal processing, solid-state engineering, and systems and control.

Requirements for the new MBS include a combination of 43 credits—24 in science or engineering and 19 in business. Silver says the National Science Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and WIRED-Bio-1, a grant program of the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as corporate sponsors are supporting the new program.


Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute of Technology, in collaboration with the Heinz College, Social & Decision Science Department and the Tepper School of Business, has developed an interdisciplinary master of science degree in engineering & technology innovation management (E&TIM). Carnegie Mellon jump-started the program in 2007 with a few students.

Eden Fisher, E&TIM executive director, says the program now has 15 students and applications are being accepted for the program beginning in the spring of 2011. The E&TIM program is designed to prepare technical professionals to take a lead role in innovation and building first-rate technology programs.

“We’re looking for strong students with strong technical backgrounds,” says Fisher. “It also helps if you have a work background,” even if it was an internship. In fact, Fisher says the program can be completed in one year—from January through December—and requires a summer internship project.

The Stevens Institute of Technology’s School of Systems and Enterprise has developed a similar program, and it is publishing a set of recommendations for a master’s level graduate program in software engineering. “It’s the school’s first major update to curriculum guidelines for graduate software engineering in 20 years,” says Art Pyster, editor of the guidelines and a research professor at Stevens, who led the project.

Recommendations for the Stevens program came out of the Integrated Software and Systems Engineering Curriculum (iSSEc) project, aimed at creating a reference curriculum that reflects current development practices and the greater role of software in today’s systems. The U.S. Department of Defense is a major iSSEc sponsor.

The last time a similar set of recommendations was released was in 1989, when the Software Engineering Institute released curricular guidelines that were adopted in universities across the country. The iSSEc is planning a series of workshops to support implementation of its recommendations over the next couple of years.


Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) is doing several new things, including a vertically integrated projects (VIP) program and a new course in microelectronics and nanotechnology. The program assembles teams of sophomores through seniors who work closely with graduate students and faculty on R&D projects that will be deployed and used in the real world. As seniors graduate, new sophomores are added and returning students move up in responsibility.

Students can participate on a team for up to six semesters, earning up to two credits per semester. VIP courses are available in both ECE and computer science. Teams are multidisciplinary and typically have 10 to 15 members. Students gain in-depth knowledge of the technology covered by the team and learn how to contribute to and lead large projects.

With the official kickoff of the program early in 2009, VIP launched four teams that are continually seeking new student participants. The teams include:

• Distributed Workforce: This team designs and tests multimedia systems, Web-based applications, and human-computer interfaces to support distributed design and research teams. Georgia Tech has partnered with Purdue University in this program.

• eDemocracy Team: This team designs and creates devices, systems, processes, and policies for both secure, authenticated voting procedures and citizen participation in government. The Carter Center has joined this program as a Georgia Tech partner.

• eStadium Team: This team’s designs are aimed at deploying wireless and sensor networks to gather and deliver game and venue information for fans and safety personnel during home football games at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Tech has partnered with the GT Athletic Association for this program.

• Knowledge Mining Team: This team designs, tests, and uses systems to enhance student learning in Tech courses through video and data mining, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and human-computer interfaces.

Georgia Tech’s Management/College of Engineering (COE) has another relatively new program, Introduction to the Microelectronics and Nanotechnology Revolution, that focuses on how microelectronics and nanotechnology impact all areas of ECE and the broad array of interdisciplinary fields. It includes biweekly discussions on a related current hot topic, as well as widget deconstructions so students learn how a device works and how the technology might impact society.

Gary May, chairman of the ECE school, says the ultimate goal in the course is to identify some of the best students at Georgia Tech, get different majors to interact with each other early in their careers, and start addressing the implications and impact of engineering and science applications.

Georgia Tech’s Colleges of Computing and Engineering also offer what were the nation’s first interdisciplinary doctoral degrees in robotics, starting in 2008. Up to 15 candidates are admitted to the program each year, but the plan is to build the program to 60 enrolled students. More than 30 faculty members from five different schools are affiliated with this new program.

Georgia Tech has also partnered with two leading Italian universities—the Politecnico di Torino and the University of Trento—to offer dual master’s degrees in ECE and computer science. Students in this program will complete two graduate degrees in two years. Plus, they may obtain internships with multi-national firms.

The University of Delaware is moving in the same direction, developing programs with a growing list of minors and areas of concentration for undergraduate engineering students. Graduate certificate programs are also available at Delaware in composite materials and “green engineering,” as well as a new master of science degree in software engineering. Graduate certificate and degree programs are also planned for systems engineering and engineering management.


Many of these new educational opportunities are the result of the awarding of grants and sponsorships from both government agencies and corporations. The National Science Foundation has allocated $15 million this year to expand these programs across the country.

One example is cyber security. In its research in cognitive radio and wireless communications and network security, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology has been awarded National Science Foundation grants of more than $1 million to advance its work in cognitive radio.

“These grants enable continued research and innovation towards the ultimate goals of being a worldwide leader in these technologies,” says professor Yu-Dong Yao, department director in ECE. “The grants also work toward new academic opportunities, Technogenesis programs, and integrated research and education curriculums that aim at the training of our diverse population of students.”

Similarly, Lockheed Martin has formed a relationship with Carnegie Mellon, Purdue University, and the University of Maryland, offering scholarships to these schools to develop a talent pool of expertise in cyber security. “Cyber security is embedded in everything Lockheed Martin delivers,” says Rick Johnson, vice president and chief technology officer, Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Services. “The company has invested more than $1 million in university recruiting, scholarships, and training.” Current and new Lockheed Martin employees can leverage their training in cyber security training to include formal certification in this specialty, along with technology training from Lockheed Martin Cyber Security Alliance Partners, Cisco and McAfee.

Another growing area of interest at the university level is the environment. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and School of Arts and Sciences has launched a program to enable participants to earn a dual master of business administration/master of environmental studies degree in three years or less. Several companies support the program, including General Electric, BASF, Goldman Sachs, Rohm & Haas, and Xerox. Montclair State University’s College of Science and Mathematics in New Jersey has developed a similar program, becoming one of the few universities in the country in 2009 to award a PhD in environmental management.


It also pays to have wealthy neighbors. Admitting that physical proximity made the partnership a good fit, the University of Delaware and the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command have signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) between the school and the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to develop antenna technology and composite materials for the Army.

Under similar circumstances, the University of California-Berkeley has developed a new interdisciplinary approach to advanced digital animation with the support of Pixar Animation Studios, PDI/Dreamworks, Tippet Studios, and Lucasfilm Limited. The arrangement gives the school’s College of Engineering Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EE&CS) Department the opportunity to design a curriculum that draws from this pool of industry talent for guest lectures, technical demonstrations, and critiques of student work. UC Berkeley’s EE&CS and Art Practice departments, Pixar, and the Center for New Media developed this course as a collaborative effort. UC Berkeley hopes to offer the course every other year for the foreseeable future.

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