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March 1998

 

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From the Department Head...

The nationwide information technology boom has revolutionized almost every field, not just electrical and computer engineering and computer science.

In every area, people who can use, apply, and develop computer and communications technology are in great demand. The technology has become so pervasive that it is forcing us to rethink how we should change in order to respond to the demand for the teaching of computer and programming skills.

Many industrial organizations believe that hardware and software are so inextricably entwined that they should be taught together. Some of the world's top universities, such as MIT, the University of Michigan, University of California Berkeley, and Harvard have combined Electrical Engineering and Computer Science departments. These EECS departments cover the entire information technology spectrum, from silicon to software.

We also find that many students and workers want to learn computer programming within specific contexts, such as music, education, medicine, or engineering. These students don't want or need, nor are they academically prepared for an education in the theory of computer languages and algorithms. They are seeking specific skills. At Virginia Tech we have created new programs in Management Sciences and Information Technology, and Accounting and Information Systems, which are growing very rapidly.

Our own Department has found advantages to teaching some programming within the context of our field. For seven years, we had a limit on the numbers of students allowed to study computer engineering because the software courses they needed were taught by the Computer Science Department, which could only accommodate 40 (and then 70) of our students at each level. We were able to remove this artificial cap when we decided to teach some of the software courses within our own Department and were given resources to hire additional computer engineering faculty.

In the first year after the cap was removed, 160 students entered the CpE major. This year we anticipate that 250 students will enter the CpE undergraduate program. Department undergraduate enrollments will reach an all time high in the next few years; we are projecting more than 400 graduates by the year 2000.

In addition to the tremendous growth of computer engineering, we are finding that when software courses are taught using an electrical and computer engineering perspective, our students are able to reinforce concepts they learn in their engineering courses. This year, more than 450 students are taking a freshmen course in engineering problem solving using C++, a language we were teaching seniors just three years ago. This will enable a dramatic expansion of software offerings in both EE and CpE at all program levels.

Growth and change do not come easily. Teaching loads are higher, faculty are learning to teach new subjects and traditional departmental lines are becoming fuzzier. I am certain that these changes are for the betterment of our students, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the nation.

As we move further into the "Age of Information," we can expect even more changes in education. We can't predict all of them at this time, but we know that the changes will happen at a faster pace than ever before. We also know that educational institutions must remain at the forefront of these changes.

Your inputs and comments are needed and wanted as we go through these changing times.

The Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Virginia Tech


Last Updated, April 24, 1998
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