Recent Initiatives Strike at Creating a More Diverse, Hands-on EE Education

March 05, 2022 by Lianne Frith

As technology continues to evolve, so should the education of those making the technology. A recent outpour of initiatives and programs from companies and universities shoot for more diverse, hands-on EE education.

The world needs more electrical engineers ready to tackle society's most significant challenges; engineers who are equipped with both the professional and technical skills required by an ever-evolving industry. 

Recently, universities and companies have been rolling out new programs and initiatives to help meet that need and better prepare the next generation of electrical engineers for tomorrow's workforce. 


Statistics on the engineering and manufacturing talent gap.

Statistics on the engineering and manufacturing talent gap. Image used courtesy of Brightwing

In this article, let's look at some of these initiatives and see how these might affect the education of future EEs. However, before diving in, it's important to understand some of the challenges EE education is facing.


What Challenges Do Future EEs Face? 

One key issue when it comes to education is accessibility. 

While the importance of STEM education is well known, underrepresented groups can often be left behind. 

The industry continues to be dominated by white males, while women, minority groups, and low-income students are the minorities. While having an equal amount of talent and potential, these students often lack the curiosity, confidence, and motivation to pursue engineering and feel disassociated from the wider engineering community. 


Student working on circuit theory.

Student working on circuit theory. Image used courtesy of Jeswin Thomas from Pexels


Another critical challenge is the skills that EEs acquire during their education. The skills and knowledge engineering students have when they graduate play a vital role in their employability and career success. 

With this in mind, there have been discussions about a gap between skills that are in demand compared versus those supplied by educational institutions. Courses often take a heavy mathematical or theoretical approach but don't allow students to get hands-on knowledge of the disciplines in question, leaving a clear skills gap

Not only does this poorly prepare them for future employment, but it can lead them to become disinterested and unmotivated. 


What Initiatives Are There To Tackle Educational Challenges?

Fortunately, companies and universities are running several initiatives and programs to try to solve these educational challenges. The overarching aim is to empower and support the next generation of engineers by providing them with skills that employers are actively needing.


New PCB Design Curriculum

The first recent initiative hopes to tackle the gap in the industry for more PCB designers. EMA Design Automation has collaborated with Cadence Design Systems and Rochester Institute of Technology to provide college-level PCB design courses for electrical engineers.


Example PCB design workflow from the Hitchhiker's Guide to PCB Design.

Example PCB design workflow from the Hitchhiker's Guide to PCB Design. Image used courtesy of EMA


The unique program aims to provide engineers with the skills and tools to excel in the ever-changing technology industry. 

Based upon concepts from the Hitchhiker's Guide to PCB Design book, the program directly addresses the industry's skills gap by providing training in critical areas such as manufacturing, CAD software, and more. 

Additionally, students can become OrCAD certified as part of the course, proving their abilities to potential employers. 


NSF Grant for Low-income Students

Another announcement hoping to help future EEs is a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) of $1.5 million to a team of Penn State Harrisburg researchers. This grant aims to provide scholarships and mentors to low-income students

Academically talented students with financial needs experience higher stress levels, lower satisfaction, and a decreased sense of belonging, leading to a lack of interest in STEM fields. 

The program aims to increase access to a college education for under-represented low-income populations, alleviate the financial burden, and create a support system.


Clean Room As A Classroom 

As the world continues to change towards newer types of technology, it's essential to steer education in those directions. 

During autumn 2021, two new classes were launched within the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at MIT to help introduce undergraduates to nanoscience


Students at MIT get hands-on experience.

Students at MIT get hands-on experience. Image used courtesy of Jesus del Alamo and MIT


The classes used the labs at MIT.nano to get hands-on experience and explore spectrometry, nanomaterial synthesis, photovoltaics, and more. 

One class focused on bridging the fundamentals of engineering design with the actual building of functionally integrated technologies. The other class let students explore the facilities, experiment with nanotechnology toolsets, and build silicon solar cells. 

As concepts like nanoscience often seem abstract and inaccessible at the undergraduate level, these types of classes offering hands-on experience can be transformational for students and push them towards fields in need.


Machine Learning and Data Science Specialisation at ECE

Along the lines of adapting to changing technological fields of study, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of ECE has launched a machine learning (ML) and data science option for electrical engineering undergraduates and computer engineering majors. 

Within this specialization, students focus on coding for various areas like: 

  • Data manipulation
  • Analysis
  • Visualizations
  • Artificial neural networks
  • Deep learning

The motivation for the course is to provide students with formal recognition of concentrated coursework in ML, signal processing, and other data science and engineering topics that employers highly value. 

When students graduate, the specialization is noted on their transcript to give them a valuable credential when searching for employment.


Micron Donate's Over 1 Million Dollars For More Diverse EE Education

The final initiative we'll mention in this roundup is Micron Technology's recent announcement that they'll be offering over $1 million in grants to the colleges of engineering at Boise State University and the University of Idaho. 

The grants aim to support targeted programs to expand equal access to education, improve diversity enrollment, and prepare underrepresented students for fulfilling engineering careers. 

It comes in response to statewide efforts in Idaho to attract more students to engineering careers. The grant will be used in part to establish and support the College of Engineering's Student Success Centre (SSC). 

The SSC hopes to build a diverse community for students to foster practical learning, mentoring, internships, and valuable life skills.


How Could These Initiatives Affect Future EEs?

Initiatives and programs like those we've touched on are likely to become more commonplace as EE education evolves. The industry needs a pipeline of well-prepared engineering professionals. 

Companies and universities seem to be tackling these challenges by engaging diverse students in engineering courses and ensuring more representation in the talent pool. 

To accomplish this goal, they're focusing on how students need to be supported, incorporated within research communities, and allowed to gain both knowledge and skills. 

All in all, there is a need to shift to more hands-on learning to motivate students and show them what they can truly master. If all goes to plan, these initiatives, and those that follow, look set to inspire and shape the future leaders of science and technology.