ROHNERT PARK – After almost 10 years since its inception, the engineering program at Sonoma State University is emerging as a dynamic player in the local technology scene.
“We’re in the right place and time. The potential is huge. Technology is growing so fast and everything is doable now,” said SSU engineering professor Haider Khaleel, whose specialty is telemedicine and wireless devices. “The trend in technology is wearable electronics, and with computing and technology in other unexpected fields like medicine and entertainment. Gadgets we see now were hard to do 10 years ago. Sensors are fast, efficient and cheap. All of this provides motivation for the undergraduate level.”
The engineering program at SSU started small, with 20 students in 2006. In the last two years, however, the number of students enrolled in the program has doubled, from 60 to 120, and is expected to reach 150 next year. The department offers three avenues of study — a minor and bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s in computer and engineering science.
What differentiates SSU’s engineering department from those at other colleges, and makes it more competitive, is the emphasis on comprehensive, experiential education.
“Our motto is learning by doing. From day one we get students involved in laboratory courses, more so than other schools. It’s something we’re very proud of,” said Saeid Rahimi, one of the department’s professors and who spearheaded the development of the program.
A distinct advantage for the program, in terms of support and exposure, is its proximity to tech and industry firms. Also, the nature of the program is actually driven by what companies throughout the North Bay and beyond need in terms of employees.
Last year, the department created an Engineering Industry Advisory Board, partnering local tech professionals and science and engineering faculty.
The board is comprised of representatives from North Bay companies including Keysight Technologies, Cyan, Trivascular, Lemo, Intelenex, National Instruments, Parker Hannifin, and several members from the community. They are also in the process of adding a representative from Medtronic Inc. to the board.
The purpose of the committee is to align industry needs with what the school is teaching.
Basically, the faculty is asking industry professionals “what do you want from our graduates?” Rahimi said.
As a result, the department has shifted its direction. Changes to the curriculum are on the horizon. SSU Professor Farid Farahmand is the incoming chair and Mark Pierpoint, vice-president and general manager of the software modular solutions division at Keysight, is the incoming co-chair.
“The two of them are forming a team to make significant changes. The board is giving us guidelines as to what we need to pay attention to, and pointing out the direction of the curriculum,” Rahimi said.
Keysight is one of the companies that has been involved with the SSU dating back to the late 1990s when the company was Hewlett-Packard), donating money and state-of-the art equipment to stimulate an engineering program at the school. Initially, millions of dollars in equipment was donated to the department by industries and the community. The challenge now, Rahimi said, is to keep evolving, mobilize, and take the laboratories forward.
Pierpoint believes the board will rejuvenate the program and take it to the next level. The mission is straightforward.