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Engineering an Education for the Future
January 1998 (vol. 31 no. 1)
pp. 77-85

Faced with rapid and unremitting change in the disciplines of electrical and computer engineering (ECE), some educators argue that they should deliberately not respond aggressively. Rather, educators should focus on fundamentals that will serve the students well for an entire career.

Although the authors agree, they go on to explain that this approach largely begs the question of what those fundamentals are. Of course it is desirable to impart all feasible fundamentals, but that seems impossible given the expanding breadth of knowledge required in the ECE field.

Thus the question this article addresses is: What are the fundamental skills and knowledge that are important for a future career in ECE? What should be the educational priorities?

The authors believe that the center of gravity of most undergraduate curricula today is too far on the side of attempting to train the small cadre of technical experts, a hopeless task within a four- or five-year program. Because of the hopelessness of the task, too much content is crammed into the program, thinking it makes it better (and somehow less hope- less). This shuts out other fundamental knowledge that the authors believe will be extremely valuable to design careers. Students have been seriously short-changed by not understanding the big picture.

The authors advocate an alternative vision in which the undergraduate program focuses on a limited and carefully chosen set of core ideas, supplemented by real-world examples and importantly by student self-exploration and learning. Such an undergraduate program also emphasizes breadth, an exposure to a range of technical issues, as well as mathematics, science, humanities, and social sciences.

After the undergraduate experience, the students divide themselves into several groups. One group chooses to leave with an undergraduate degree, perhaps returning to school later to obtain a master's degree in engineering or business, or perhaps emphasizing a career in design management, marketing, or sales. A second group stays for a master's degree, leaving with the skills to be long-term design professionals. The third group stays for a doctorate, and becomes the cadre of technical experts who are pre-pared to tackle the difficult technical challenges and carry forward the core technologies.

Citation:
Edward A. Lee, David G. Messerschmitt, "Engineering an Education for the Future," Computer, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 77-85, Jan. 1998, doi:10.1109/2.641980
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