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Computer degree program offered

By Charlotte Crystal

U.Va. engineering students have been able to concentrate in computer engineering since 1997, but their degrees have been granted either in computer science or electrical engineering. Now, with the recent endorsement of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, U.Va. has begun offering an accredited degree program in computer engineering.

The first students are expected to receive their degrees in computer engineering in December.

"The skills attained by students in this program position them to become major contributors to the computer revolution," said John Stankovic, chair of U.Va.'s Department of Computer Science.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer engineering is one of the fastest growing occupations in the country, second only to "database administrators, computer support specialists and other computer scientists." The bureau estimates that between 1996 and 2006, there will be 235,000 new openings for computer engineers.

Joanne Bechta Dugan, a U.Va. professor of electrical engineering who has been a strong supporter of the new degree program, says computer engineering lies somewhere in the middle between computer science -- which covers theory, algorithms, software, networking, graphics and computer architecture -- and electrical engineering -- which covers microelectronics, electrical circuits and devices, networks, communications systems, computer architecture, hardware design and systems analysis.

"Computer engineering provides a balanced view of both areas -- electrical engineering and computer science -- that students will need for many of the new jobs being created by our booming Internet economy, Dugan said.

Previously, to concentrate in computer engineering, students had to complete all the requirements for a degree in electrical engineering or computer science, as well as all the requirements for a degree in computer engineering. That left almost no elective courses at all, Dugan noted.

"By reducing the number of required courses to that of other engineering tracks, 128 credits of course work, the new program offers the students new flexibility," Bechta Dugan said.

The formal creation of the program, which will be jointly administered by both departments, comes as enrollment in classes in electrical engineering and computer science continues to climb. The program's goal is to enroll 150 undergraduate students within five years.


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