Industry Insights

ECEDHA 2019 - Additional Focus on Lab Professional and Students

2019-03-22  |  5 min read 

The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA) 2019 Conference and ECExpo starts today, and it is going to be a remarkable event. In addition to the typical keynote addresses and breakout sessions, this year’s event includes a focus on lab professionals called ECELab, which is a nice innovation. The lab manager role does not often get a lot of attention, but an effective ECE department absolutely requires competent and diligent professionals who can keep up with technologies, order equipment and accessories, lay out and configure labs for safety and convenience, install and network equipment, track assets, ensure that equipment is calibrated on schedule, keep firmware and software up to date, replenish consumable items, repair damaged equipment, troubleshoot issues, properly dispose of old equipment, manage limited budgets, and much more.
 
I have recently gone on several ECE department tours, and both students and parents quickly notice which schools are investing in quality labs and which ones seem to be out of date or poorly managed. The best labs have systems that allow the instructors and lab assistants to monitor and administer benches from a single location, and busy students also notice and appreciate it when they can use one interface to control multiple pieces of equipment. With the ubiquity of instant communication, students are in constant contact with friends from other universities, and negative educational experiences spread quickly. ECEDHA is therefore very wise in including the lab management emphasis this year. This ECELab component will feature three roundtables - one on innovation in instructional labs, another on curriculum required for industry-ready engineers, and a session on overall best practices for optimizing student experiences.
 
ECEDHA has always focused on improving student experiences, and the 2019 conference exemplifies that focus. A presentation that will be of great value at this year’s conference is the breakout session on Revolutionizing ECE Departments (RED), organized by Dr. Tony Maciejewski of Colorado State and featuring Dr. Ashfaq Khokhar of Iowa State and Dr. Luke Lester of Virginia Tech. The RED initiative has been in progress for several years, and one of its key aims is to break down the silos that artificially separate topics from various undergraduate courses. For example, a typical freshman or sophomore often takes calculus from the Math department, electricity and magnetism from the Physics department, and introduction to electrical circuits from the ECE department. There are many useful and obvious connections that could be made among these topics, but the material is often presented in an uncoordinated way that misses out on the synergy and deep learning that could occur from a more holistic and integrated treatment. Of course, RED is much more than this, and if the initiative is successful, it could be a useful building block in solving the student retention problem that often challenges ECE departments.
 
Another building block in solving that problem might be a cross-disciplinary approach to engineering education. This will be the topic of the Multidisciplinary Design Plenary Panel, organized by Dr. Dennis Peters of Memorial University Newfoundland. Joining Dr. Peters will be Dr. Sid Deliwala of the University of Pennsylvania and Mr. Cory Mettler, a lecturer at South Dakota State. Multidisciplinary design is not always easy to implement in an undergraduate environment, as different departments may have different class times and physical locations, and students usually have very limited experience in working with students from other disciplines. Communication can also be a challenge, as the jargon and assumed knowledge that are commonly used in one discipline may bewilder students with a different background. The panelists have successfully worked through these and other issues, and it will be of benefit to others to learn from their generous sharing.