A New Name and Degree Offering for Electrical Engineering
Over the past 50 years, engineering has evolved and changed. Fields previously unimagined—cyber-physical systems and Internet of Things, to name a couple—are hot employment markets now, and the topology of computer architecture is also transforming. To keep pace with the shifting landscape, SCU’s Department of Electrical Engineering is changing, too. Starting in fall, 2019, the department will have a new name and a corresponding undergraduate major will be offered: Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). The new major fills a gap between the currently offered majors in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Engineering, and it will allow students to follow a major program with a focus on computer hardware, architectures and embedded systems. The existing major in Electrical Engineering will continue to be offered by the department.
Shoba Krishnan, chair of the newly renamed department, is excited by the changes. She reported that ramping up really fast, the department has hired one new faculty member already and expects to have another starting in the fall. Long-time faculty are refocusing their research and looking at new areas of interest. In some cases, this means just slightly altering perspective. For instance, chip design—which had fallen somewhat out of favor as manufacturing moved from Silicon Valley to other locations around the world—is once again becoming a topic of interest, from a hardware security standpoint. “In a global economy,” Krishnan explained, “parts for our cell phones, computers, even missiles, may come from Indonesia, China, Sweden, Mexico, or any number of places. The risk of bad actors putting something in their parts to implant in your hardware and steal information is very real. It is vitally important that engineers design systems that cannot be breached, or that can detect breaches. Hardware security problems are extremely complex, but a solution such as a hardware security fingerprint is so fundamental, first-year students can easily grasp the concept and the technology can be introduced early. Reviving the field of semiconductor fundamentals from a national security standpoint is really attractive and exciting to students. Santa Clara students want to make a difference, this type of problem motivates them and helps them realize this is a good field to be in,” she said.
Krishnan believes the department name change and new degree offering will open students’ eyes to what electrical engineering is all about. “A lot of fields that students perceive as being solely in the domain of computer engineering are actually rooted in electrical engineering. Communications, autonomous vehicles, networking, connected computing, are all very EE. This program will make students more aware of the realities of the industries they hope to enter. They may be initially attracted to networking and, through their courses in ECE, find that their passion lies in designing power systems. If software engineering is their calling, knowing the hardware inside and out will make them much more valuable to employers,” she said.
Rather than detracting from the College of Arts and Sciences computer science program, or the School of Engineering’s computer engineering offerings, the new program in electrical and computer engineering and the department’s name change reflect the University’s commitment to serving students, and also employers, in a very comprehensive way, Krishnan said. “Silicon Valley employers have been frustrated with having to train newly graduated engineers who lack a solid foundation in computer hardware design or communication standards. Our advisory board members from industry have been crying out for this change and employers are chomping at the bit. This degree program will help us prepare students to get right to work,” Krishnan said.