Curricula Updates Will Allow Students Increased Flexibility

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Providing students with more flexibility regarding which courses they take and when is at the heart of recent faculty-approved changes to Mechanical and Electrical and Computer Engineering curricula.

“To be competitive, today’s engineers require a broad interdisciplinary skill set, which means that our programs have to provide the opportunities for our students to gain these skills,” said Gary May, dean of the College of Engineering. “These changes won’t affect the rigor of the programs, rather they will ensure that the theory we teach is better connected to practice.”

The updates reflect a national trend among collegiate engineering programs to provide curricula that are challenging but also allow students more flexibility when it comes to taking electives or finding time to fit a co-op or study abroad experience into their schedules. However, as far as May knows, Georgia Tech is one of the first universities to follow through with revamping multiple engineering program curricula.

“It’s been a while since these degree programs were updated to reflect current standards, and I’m impressed that the faculty in both schools recognized the need for change and were proactive,” May added.

Mechanical Engineering

In February, faculty members in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering voted to revise the current curriculum, which will allow students to choose a “breadth” or “concentration” option. Both options will increase the total curriculum credits from 126 to 129.

“The new curriculum retains the strengths of the present program, meaning that it still gives students a broad grounding in the fundamentals as well as experience in professional practice and design. But the new curriculum will give students the ability to expand their knowledge beyond mechanical engineering, so that they can pursue their interests in truly multidisciplinary topics,” said Al Ferri, the school’s associate chair of undergraduate studies.

For years, students, employers and academic leaders have stressed the need for greater flexibility in the choice of both technical and free electives, Ferri said. To ensure that their interests were represented in the revised curriculum, students from the Woodruff School Student Advisory Council assisted the school’s Undergraduate Committee as it hammered out the details.

The breadth option will provide students with five free electives (15 credit hours) versus the two free electives (six credit hours) allowed under the previous curriculum. These electives could be used by students to complete a certificate or minor in an array of subjects from math and applied sciences to sociology and public policy.

The concentration option will provide a major depth experience in some sub-discipline of mechanical engineering — much like doing a minor within a major, Ferri added. For example, students could choose to specialize in areas such as thermal and energy systems, biomechanics, materials, or nuclear and radiological engineering.

The revised curriculum was approved by the Institute’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee on March 13 and will now be submitted to the Georgia Tech Academic Senate for final approval in April.

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Starting this summer, the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) will roll out its changes to both the Electrical Engineering (EE) and Computer Engineering (CmpE) curricula.

“There were two driving forces behind our curriculum changes,” said Joseph Hughes, senior associate chair of the school. “The first was that the two degree programs were too similar, and we either needed to blend them into one degree or make each unique. Also, we wanted to increase flexibility so that students could pursue minors or an international plan and still be able to graduate in a timely manner.”

The number of credits required for each degree program will remain the same. However, the number of ECE credit hours that were common to the two degree programs will be reduced from 29 to 20 to better differentiate the two curricula.

An electrical energy course and a course in signals and systems will be added to the EE curriculum. Also, a required programming course and lab will be replaced by ECE electives, which will allow students more flexibility and options when it comes to choosing a specialization.

CmpE majors will now take foundational courses that focus on mathematical, physical and design principles for computational systems. In addition, the number of ECE elective hours will increase from 10 to 22 hours and the number of free elective hours will increase from nine to 12.

In the future, it’s likely that many of the College of Engineering curricula will undergo similar changes to allow more flexibility, May said.

“To meet our strategic objective of being one of the most highly respected technology-focused learning institutions in the world, we have to ensure that our programs are designed to graduate competitive engineers,” May added. “Updating these two curricula are a step in that direction.”



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