The rapid technological advancements over the past century that enabled the computer and information age have fueled the passion of electrical engineering (EE). Today, technologies created by EE’s have become so pervasive that they are often taken for granted as engineers develop new technologies with global impact. While advancements continue in specific EE areas, high-impact solutions to grand challenges in areas such as healthcare, education, and transportation are increasingly cross-disciplinary in nature, requiring collaboration across EE areas and other disciplines. EE has traditionally comprised of fixed sub-disciplines working in isolation, and lacking in diversity of knowledge and background. The EE discipline is likely at a turning point, where success of EE’s can no longer rely exclusively on advances with the technical discipline (e.g., the integrated circuit, personal computer, smartphone), but also the ability to interface technological advances across highly complex systems and across broad application areas. There is a clear need to reinvent curricula in EE, including a major emphasis to support student diversity and to prepare tomorrow’s engineers to be competitive in a global world. In this Work In Progress, a vision to reinvent the undergraduate EE curriculum at a large, research-intensive institution will be presented, along with current progress in implementation. The original curriculum is traditional in providing a rigorous education grounded in the fundamentals of the discipline and then providing depth in sub-disciplines of the field, and has not been successful in attracting and retaining a diverse student body, and in preparing students with the cross-disciplinary skillset to meet modern day challenges. Exploratory studies at our institution through focus groups with undergraduate engineering students and analysis of student transcripts, as well as a review of curriculum innovations implemented at other institutions, have been completed. These suggest the importance of both (1) providing students with an early integrative foundation to allow them to make informed decisions in choosing an engineering discipline and to effectively navigate through their degree program and (2) offering more complex, hands-on experiences that are aligned with solving high-impact problems. The new curriculum seeks to provide this early integrative foundation by interweaving the diversity of technical areas in EE at an early stage. This requires the restructuring of foundation courses and the development of dedicated project-based integrative lab and design coursework at the sophomore and junior level. The new curriculum also aims to prepare students to tackle high-impact problems by introducing a formal requirement for an immersive learning experience that addresses a high-impact engineering, scientific, or societal challenge of the student’s choosing, allowing students to acquire rich, hands-on experience with complex, real-world societal problems. These two approaches to reinvent the EE curriculum – an early integrative foundation and an immersive learning experience – are expected to foster a sense of community, sustain passion in the discipline, and deepen students’ abilities and motivations to participate in impactful activities that will change the world. As a result, the new curriculum will attract and retain a more diverse student body and prepare student with the broad EE skillset required to address cross-disciplinary global challenges.
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