April 20, 2004
Dean demands changes in engineering education
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Electronics design has changed in fundamental ways, but engineering education is much as it was 30 years ago, charged Raman Unnikrishnan, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at California State University, Fullerton.
In a keynote speech at Savant Company's First International SoC Conference, Unnikrishnan warned that change must come, and soon, if engineering schools are to fulfill their responsibility to provide useful engineers to industry. The dean said engineering is about creating intelligent products, much of which is in the form of software.
"The things that used to be fundamentals are less important now," Unnikrishnan said. "But new things, like the stages in the IC design flow, are vital." More changes are coming, Unnikrishnan said, including the intersection of biological sciences and microelectronics.
Unnikrishnan said that at a purely practical level, universities needed access to modern design tools, the training to prepare educators to teach their use, access to hardware and software IP and access to chip fabrication facilities. "Today we must typically spend $300K to have a test chip fabricated," he observed.
Unnikrishnan said engineers face a future where old, pat answers to familiar problems won't work. He contrasted curricula that instilled a narrow range of skills to a new curriculum that teaches problem-solving. To do this, Unnikrishnan proposed an education program that began with basic educational requirements and then moved on to add basic knowledge in software, nanoelectronics, biological sciences and systems thinking.
"But training in design must be integrated throughout this," he explained.
The dean warned that such a curriculum would probably mean abandoning what he called the ''fictitious four-year degree."
"It takes students five years to complete their undergraduate degree already," Unnikrishnan said. "Perhaps we need to consider that the first degree in engineering will be the Master's. This has already been proposed at MIT, but I think it would be a very hard sell in most other places."
Unnikrishnan warned that change would not come easy. "It is very difficult to change the reward structures that exist now," he said. "So I'm offering a challenge to industry. Pressure us. Engage individual professors, one-on-one. Bring them into your world, and show them what you need. That will bring about change."