Major and Meaningful Design Experiences
The Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department's mission for undergraduate education is to provide a thorough grounding in electrical science, electrical engineering and computer engineering combined with intensive training in mathematics. Experimental science and technology are emphasized through investigative laboratory work and classroom lectures/demonstrations.
The curriculum includes engineering science and design courses that provide a balanced view of hardware, software, application trade-offs, basic modeling techniques and the use of computer-aided design tools. These principles are integrated throughout the curriculum, which encourages students to engage in major and meaningful design experiences.
A portion of the curriculum for ECE students also is devoted to studies in the humanities and social sciences and a wide choice of subjects is allowed. These general education (GenEd) courses serve to broaden students' outlooks and focus attention on the importance of non-technical knowledge in determining students' ultimate level of responsibility in professional life.
Seniors Offered Real-World Experience
An important aspect of the ECE curriculum is the senior-year technical elective program. Technical electives provide opportunities for broadening or deepening technical knowledge according to student interests and competencies. New tracks focusing on computing skills as well as double majors in computer science and physics also are offered. The ECE Department also has developed a project-based Capstone program for seniors that is designed to provide support to the disabled while bringing together knowledge from several courses toward solving a real-world engineering problem. Many electronic and microprocessor-based systems have been delivered that have made a major impact on the freedom and quality of life for the disabled. The ECE Department also has ties with many local companies, both large and small, to offer coop opportunities for which course credit can be earned.
Curriculum Development Mirrors Industry
The ECE Department strives to be a department of choice for both local and regional students and is actively repositioning itself. It has responded to industry needs by offering focused programs both at the undergraduate and graduate levels in order to develop technically literate engineers of value to the community. Graduates are knowledgeable and practical problem solvers, most of whom stay in the New England area as working engineers.
For example, Raytheon, a major employer in the region, has more University of Massachusetts Lowell EE and CpE graduates than from any other similar academic department in the country. The department values this reputation and, in concert with industry's needs and without compromising the long-term value of the educational needs, strives to maintain and enhance this image. The ECE Department offers a coop program that the College of Engineering and the University have helped formalize. Making such opportunities available to students greatly enhances their engineering experience and the relevance of their courses while increasing their exposure to other professionals.
Advisory Board Illuminates Industrial Needs
The ECE Industry Advisory Board plays an important role in considering program objectives by providing the department with immediate industrial needs. Input from the advisory board serves to continually assess the relevancy of the curriculum to the needs of industry. These needs must be balanced against the need to identify truly fundamental topics that will serve the student body well in the long term. Technical areas sometimes take second place to a "can-do" attitude, excellent communication skills, and the initiative required to teach oneself. Meetings with the Industry Advisory Board occur once per semester. Close ties with industry through the coop program, research and consulting, and alumni interactions provide valuable feedback on the program about the skill sets required to function in a working environment.
Strategic alliances have been formed with several of our Industry Advisory Board members. For example, Analog Devices has funded a scholarship program that provides four undergraduate ECE students a guaranteed internship during winter and summer vacations. A pipeline of co-op students is in place with several companies, providing for very close interaction and feedback between our programs and their expectations. Ten other companies since have joined this program and offer scholarships to prospective ECE students.
Transition to Graduate Studies
Although the department's primary focus is undergraduate education, its graduate program focuses on the strengths of the department faculty and complements the undergraduate program. The faculty has close ties primarily with local and regional industry through consulting and research. Department professors also advise graduate students from regional companies, and participate in local and national professional society organizations.
Most of ECE students enter industry and a significant percentage find positions at companies within 100 miles of Lowell. While some go to graduate school directly, typical graduates go directly into the workforce with the expectation that the employer will fund their graduate school education. Since the majority of the graduate student body is part time, graduate courses are offered in the evenings, enabling students to take one or two courses per semester.