Electronics/Computer Engineering Programs Keep Pace With Industry

Published 09.18.2006

Electronics & Computer Engineering Technology

Graduating college students face new challenges in today's economy that include global competition for jobs and a constantly expanding array of technology, according to faculty in Pennsylvania College of Technology's School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies.

"The jobs we want to prepare students for are jobs that can't be outsourced to other countries, because, if they can be, they will be," explained Jeffrey B. Weaver, assistant professor of electronics.

Some of the trends in U.S. industry include the move away from building or repairing products to installing and maintaining the computer networks and automation systems that do the building and repairing, explained Richard J. Calvert, assistant professor of electronics and head of the electronics and computer engineering technologies department at Penn College.

Good jobs continue to be available in those fields, and the department, formerly called electronics engineering technology, has revised the emphasis of some of its majors to continue its tradition of matching industry demands. As part of that practice, in the 1980s, the electronics department developed specialty majors in response to industry?s need for graduates who can work in those specialty areas right away, rather than requiring additional on-the-job training.

Students in each electronics and computer engineering technology degree program, both two- and four-year, work with industry-standard equipment and learn applications-oriented skills, meaning they can use those skills on the first day of work. Some programs also offer students the opportunity to achieve industry certifications to bolster their resumes upon graduation.

Among the newest programming revisions, which are in place for Fall 2006 enrollees, are combining two associate-degree concentrations a computer maintenance/automation specialty with a process-control specialty to create the robotics and automation specialty.

"Increasingly, computer help-desk and support jobs are done outside the country," Weaver said. "Even computer maintenance is sometimes done offshore."

Calvert said the trend is toward more automation, more computers and software, more networks, and better and more stable electronics.

In addition to the associate-degree concentration in robotics and automation, the department also offers electronics and computer engineering technology associate-degree concentrations in nanofabrication, communications and fiber optics, and electronics and computer engineering technology.

In cooperation with Cisco Systems' Networking Academy Program, the Cisco Systems emphasis prepares graduates for careers in electronics and computer networking by teaching the skills required for the Cisco Certified Network Associate and Cisco Certified Network Professional industry certifications.

The bachelor's degree in electronics and computer engineering technology concentrates on an intensive array of applied-technology courses designed to prepare graduates for a technologically diverse workplace, vitally important as technology continues to evolve rapidly.

"Industry representatives repeatedly tell us that the jobs in the new economy are too diverse to educate students in all the specific tasks and procedures needed to be competitive," Calvert said. "That requires our graduates to be educated in the fundamentals of applied technology and then trained to be resourceful and able to solve a wide range of problems that result from diverse technologies."

"We expose our students to a wide variety of equipment to help them adapt to new technologies," Weaver said. "To ensure our facilities are state-of-the-art, the college is constructing new laboratories housed in the Center for Business and Workforce Development, which will be equipped with the latest technology to support the new degree programs."

The laboratories are scheduled to open for the start of Fall 2007 classes.

"Our graduates are taught to be lifelong learners in such a way that their skill set should never be outdated," Weaver said. "Graduates are also skilled in taking responsibility for a project. They are ambitious and have a strong desire to work in challenging and diverse technologies."

The program revisions will help graduates to land the high-paying and challenging jobs in today's economy and keep them competitive globally.

"Our programs include a high degree of mathematics to ensure graduates are technically competitive in an ever-changing and challenging global economy," Calvert said.

In another piece of the puzzle, in order for science and engineering jobs to remain in the United States, the workforce must remain well-supplied with employees qualified for those fields. Weaver said many students do not enter engineering technology education, because they don?t know what it means.

"Engineering technology is a field of study that makes the world better," he said. "It solves the world's problems. It makes life easier for everybody."

Engineering technology degrees differ from traditional engineering degrees largely in the learning environment, not in the skills gained, explained Lawrence J. Fryda, dean of the college's School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies. While requiring rigorous science and mathematics courses, engineering technology programs offer technical courses and hands-on laboratories, starting with the first semester of study.

"One of the new courses added to the college's engineering technology majors is an introduction course designed to help students understand what they're in for in engineering technology and to make sure it's a path they want to take," Weaver said.

Keeping a supply of well-trained engineers and technologists in the workforce, he noted, also means attracting more women to the field.

"In technology, it doesn't matter your age, ethnic background or gender," Weaver said. "Traditionally, females who enroll in our programs have been very good. They're not only successful in college, but they are also successful after college. We continue to encourage young women, as well as young men, to consider engineering technology education."

Electronics and computer engineering technology are undoubtedly important fields in the new economy.

"Young people today are users of technology," Weaver said. "We want to set them up to learn how the technology works, how it's made, how it's applied. ... If we're going to compete in a global economy, we have to prepare our employees for technology careers."

Calvert added, "Our graduates are able to compete in the global economy with their applied-technology skills and productivity."

It is for that reason that programs offered by the college's electronics and computer engineering technologies department provide students an opportunity to make a sound investment in their future a degree that will work for them.

For more information about the academic programs offered by the School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies at Penn College, call (570) 327-4520, send e-mail or visit online.