EWU in the Process of Breaking Barriers by Introducing a Computer Engineering Degree

By Kyle Fredricks, Staff Reporter

EWU is starting the groundwork on a new computer engineering program and is looking to become the first regional university in the state to offer a degree in one of America’s fastest growing careers.

Steve Simmons, Ph. D., of EWU’s Department of Computer Sciences and Uri Rogers, Ph. D., of EWU’s Department of Engineering and Design have been awarded an EWU Foundation Start Something Big grant to help launch a degree in Computer Engineering.

The decision to start a computer engineering program is well-timed. With a federally projected growth rate of 17 percent and the second highest starting salary of any undergraduate degree, creating a Computer Engineering degree is crucial.

“We’re the worker bees,” said Simmons. “Currently, we are trying to figure out what we want to teach, how to get the funding and planning visits to schools to gather information.”

Launching a computer engineering (CpE) degree is a challenge because of the frequently changing landscape of the tech world. Course design and curriculum development are vital so students can understand computer engineering and help the field advance.

“We want to establish a degree that students want to go into,” said Rogers. “And more importantly, employers want to hire from.”

CpE was created from the combination of several fields of computer sciences and electrical engineering that are required to develop computers, other tech device hardware and software in a fast changing tech environment.

“Computer engineers can be doubly innovative,” said Simmons. “Just as ice-hockey pros are both expert ice skaters and adept at the skills and teamwork of field hockey, computer engineers are adept at digital electronic engineering as well as expert practitioners of today’s computer science.”

Simmons said CpE helped create devices such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad, Microsoft’s Xbox and Surface products, as well as Amazon’s Kindle, Echo and Dot. CpE also has helped develop many technologies that help support industries such as data centers and health care.

In order to construct curriculum that is timely, Simmons and Rogers are planning visits to University of Washington, Boise State University, San Jose State University and Gonzaga.

“We didn’t want to copy a degree,” said Simmons. “We are taking these trips so we can get a better understanding of these programs so we can come up with our own course.”

With more companies in the Spokane region basing their core mission and products after CpE, local companies like Schweitzer Engineering Labs, Itron, F5 Networks and Infinetix are asking EWU to produce Computer Engineering graduates.

Rogers said he was able to see the opportunity from a student’s perspective. By working together with companies such as F5 Networks, students have been able to see the projects that are underway and pick their brain about the future of technology.

“These companies have always been helpful towards us,” said Rogers. “They’ve never turned a cold shoulder and have always worked closely with EWU students.”

With the region’s high demand for a CpE program, as well as having helpful resources, EWU is in an ideal spot to introduce a CpE degree.

EWU benefits from having the largest enrollment among regional universities in Computer Science and Engineering, with 685 majors inside of EWU’s School of Computing and Engineering Sciences.

Beyond the school programs, EWU presently has three regional advisory boards and hundreds of alumni, as well as state and local companies, to help get the program underway.

“Like it or not, we don’t have a choice,” said Rogers. “Technology has taken over our lives and we are constantly looking for the next invention to help make our lives easier.”