June 20, 2016

New engineering online degree program available

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Online education opportunities are once again expanding at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s College of Engineering, with a new degree program slated to hit the internet this fall. 

Students can sign up now for the Department of Technology’s Electrical Engineering Technology program. Prospective students can go here to find more information and register. 

The program will train students to work in many different environments where electronics are used, including telecommunications, manufacturing, power and energy or electronics design and development. The broad scope of the fully accredited program makes it ideal for students who are creative and technically inclined, officials said. 

The program will allow students who have already completed their general studies courses to earn the same Bachelor of Science degree they would receive by working and attending class on the SIU campus. Graduates from the program currently are working at major employers such as Ameren, Aisin Manufacturing, The Boeing Co. and Continental Tire, among others. 

This is the third such program being offered online by the department, joining a master’s program in Quality Engineering Management, which the college began offering online in 2011; and an undergraduate program in Industrial Management and Applied Engineering, which came online two years ago and now has nearly 40 students enrolled. 

Julie Dunston, interim chair of the department, said its online offerings have great potential for providing high-demand skills to students interested in broadening their career opportunities in engineering fields. 

“We’re really finding a niche with our online courses,” she said. “People have been calling for a method for us to get this content out there and we are responding.” 

A key portion of the EET online classes is the laboratory component, officials said. Such “hands-on” experience is critical to training students, and organizers have found ways to deliver the lab experience online by using miniaturized test instruments, computer-based tests instrument modules, circuit boards and other items in conjunction with online videos, lectures, software simulations and reading material. 

“The advancement in technology allow us to use commercially available miniature electronic test instruments to conduct experiments at home that a few years ago could only be accomplished in a laboratory,” said Garth Crosby, associate professor of technology, who spearheaded this latest online effort, conducting surveys and testing methods of delivery during the last three years.

“Instead of just working with simulations we wanted people to actually work with real devices – circuit boards and instruments like oscilloscopes, etc.” 

Crosby said the online program will make it possible for many people to increase their abilities and job prospects with its flexibility and convenience. 

“The key driving factors are the time flexibility and proximity to the Carbondale campus,” Crosby said. “We are in touch with many prospective students who are working shift jobs and reside some distance from Carbondale. And so it’s difficult for them to go to school. So the flexibility of time and location are the main reasons for this new program offering.” 

Carl Spezia, EET program coordinator, said the department is looking for students who already have some background in technology – ideally an associate degree in a related field. Such students can finish their EET degree online at SIU in two to three years, taking classes on a part-time basis. 

“Many times, people like this already have jobs and families and other commitments that prevent them from relocating to Carbondale,” Spezia said. “We’ve had many experiences recruiting locally where we’ve come across students who thought it would be a good program to attend, but they are non-traditional students and traditional delivery is not going to work for them. So this is a very efficient way of delivering the content to people who want it. 

“The key thing about EET is that it will be offered with lab component that will very much parallel the campus program,” Spezia said. “The lab component is unique to EET and it’s an accreditation requirement. So students taking the online course will come out not only with a knowledge of theory but also practical skills they will utilize every day in the workforce.” 

Dunston said students will be excellent problem solvers in the field: a skill highly valued by employers. 

“They will be able to design something then build it and if it doesn’t work, they will be able to use the problem-solving skills that we give them to figure out why and fix it. Because that’s what they’ll do in the real world,” she said. “Basically, they will know how to take something from paper to reality.” 

Organizers hope to put together a consortium of sites where students have the option to conduct labs or receive additional instructions at a physical location, and currently are in talks with several Illinois community colleges to come on board. Students also work with one point of contact for individualized advisement as they work their way through the program, Spezia said. 

“Nationwide, there are very few online programs like this, and it is the first of its kind in Illinois,” Crosby said.