ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
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Facing Global Change

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Photograph of Wayne SnodgrassCharles Darwin probably said it best: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” While Darwin was referring to biological organisms, the same principle seems to apply to the organizations of mankind. World economies are more competitive than ever before. As some great thinkers of today have recently published, our planet is becoming “flat” and capitalism is expanding fast while the technological leadership role of the United States is being challenged. U.S. universities have recently experienced an emphasis shift away from physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering, along with declines in graduate applications, while Asian and other emerging economies are establishing top-rated universities of their own and now produce orders of magnitude more scientists and engineers than the United States.

Following the U.S. model, these new competitors realize that leadership in technological innovation and first-to-capture markets, along with low cost, highly skilled labor will win the world’s economies. The money is accelerating flow towards these emerging economies. While we hope that citizens of all nations are able to enhance their standards of living, we must be proactive to preclude these changes from detracting from the quality of life for American workers (especially the middle and lower levels). Recent trends are not favorable, as widely published. If these trends continue, by 2010 more than 90 percent of all scientists and engineers in the world will live in Asia. We are clearly in a paradigm shift. Our engineering schools and universities must change focus along with national policies if our way of life is to survive.

As our nation responds (as in State of the Union Address) and Virginia responds (with some increased funding), Virginia Tech engineering and ECE have an opportunity to participate in securing our economic future and increase their reputation among the world’s top universities. I am encouraged by the effort going into the soon-to-be released Virginia Tech strategic plan that restates core values and places new focus on the scholarship domains. Please visit the Tech Provost home page, www.provost.vt.edu. There is a loose flow down of developing complementary policies (from national to university) that identify the goals and could result in major opportunities for ECE. What specifically can we stakeholders do to help?

1. Alumni and faculty can promote innovation. Those who are active in industry, government, or academia could seek ways to team their organizations with ECE in direct research funding and/or form partnerships for joint pursuit of grants. Business and political contacts in funding and policy organizations can be helpful. Ideas for international cooperative opportunities promote outreach opportunities (industries with international relationships). A disciplined business development approach will help win the competitions, and our Advisory Board Research Committee can help coordinate the opportunities. ECE has selected priorities in: power electronics, wireless communications, optical sensors, microelectronics / nanomaterials, networking, configurable computing, biomedical engineering, energy and the environment, and space science.

2. Alumni and faculty can promote graduate education. Active and retired alumni and friends of ECE can support graduate education through intern sponsorships, performance assessment and support, donations towards professorships, faculty part-time research opportunities within industries and agencies, and unrestricted donations to ECE. Our Advisory Board Graduate Education Committee can help coordinate the opportunities.

3. Alumni and faculty members can promote undergraduate education. Alumni and friends of ECE can support undergraduate education through intern or co-op sponsorships, assessment of performance, promoting PK-12 exposure to science/engineering and ECE, and promoting ECE in local events including e-week activities. Our Advisory Board Committee on Undergraduate Education can help coordinate the opportunities.

ECE is adapting to the changes under the effective leadership of department head, Jim Thorp and his faculty. The environment is opportune for us all to join in the dynamics of change and participate in helping our nation as well as our university.


Wayne Snodgrass
Chair, ECE Advisory Board