February 10, 2003
Lending a Helping Hand
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| by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
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Providing tools for hands-on experience at the university level
Pity the poor undergraduate. There's so much to learn and so little time. And for undergraduates daring to major in Electrical Engineering these days, the situation is getting worse, which may explain why their numbers have been dropping over the last 15 years. (The number of undergraduate BSEE degrees awarded this year in the U.S. has dropped by more than 20% from a peak in the late 1980's.) Some say that Computer Science or Materials Science is siphoning off potential students. Others blame the fine arts for drawing EE's away. Weary of all the left-brain stuff, they may run to an English or History major where there's less of a perceived disconnect between their studies and the world
around them. They should have stuck it out - the commitment to quality education among Electrical Engineering faculty is second to none.
Consider the presentation by Cornell University
Professor Sandip Tiwari at the NanoEngineering TecForum sponsored by the IEC
(Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association) during DesignCon 2003 last month. Dr. Tiwari carefully articulated what he feels must be added
to the already burdensome EE undergraduate course load, so that students can have a critical grasp of the concepts involved in the move to nanotechnology. Minimally he said, a survey course should be required that touches on major issues such as solid state physics and chemistry at nanoscale geometries, biophysics, polymers, MEMS, lithography, optics, and fabrication
processes. He acknowledged that it's a lot to ask, particularly at schools where the over-worked faculty are busy just trying to provide the conventional courses for their students. But, he insisted that students must have this exposure if they're going to understand the fundamental science behind what they're designing and dealing with once they get out of school.
Which brings us to that portion of the EE undergrads who specifically want to work in chip design. Not only are they swamped with required course work, but there's a gap between what they can learn in a classroom and the skill set they need to master to be successful in their first years on the job after graduation.
Many EDA, IP (intellectual property), and test vendors are aware of the problem and have been working for years to provide design tools to undergraduates to give them a level of familiarity with CAD and CAE-assisted problem solving. Ignore the naysayers who characterize this type of educational philanthropy as the “Apple” model - large donations to the schools that create a customer base once the students become consumers. If somebody's got a better way to teach undergraduates to design, let them offer it. The vendors providing tools to universities understand that students must have a shot at using real-world tools or their abilities will take even longer to come on-line. We
should give kudos to the many companies who attempt to bridge this gap for young engineering students.
To get a taste of the type of help companies are offering, a last-minute survey produced the following responses. Companies were asked to keep their summaries to a paragraph, which was a challenge for some because their programs are quire sophisticated and function at multiple levels - undergraduate, graduate, and faculty. In any case, this feedback reflects strategies for bridging the gap between theory, the pristine setting of a university lab, and the gritty reality of real-world design where product development is buffeted by market conditions and the limits of what can be accomplished within a time-to-market schedule. The educational outreach programs below reflect a good-faith effort
to assist in bringing quality engineers into the work force.
(Editor's note - Thanks to those companies who were able to respond on such short notice to the request for this information. For those companies not represented on this list, the subject will come up again soon.)
Agilent EEsof - “The company has a University Donation program. Universities accepted into the program get ADS and IC-CAP for free, but pay a nominal amount for annual upgrades and support. In exchange, Agilent asks that the universities involved publish articles based on their work with the software, and share applications with Agilent and the company's customers. Universities with RFIC and MMIC programs are the ones that typically participate. The software Agilent supplies is the full-featured version, not a limited “student version.” Additionally, the RF Design Environment is also in the University Donation Program”
Cadence Design Systems, Inc.
- “The company provides worldwide resources for enriching engineering education in advanced electronic design. The University Software Program reaches over 20,000 students each year. At a low administrative cost, educational institutions are granted access to industrial-strength EDA technology - as many licenses as needed for educational curriculum and research purposes - and receive full customer support. The software is pre-bundled for system-level design, custom and digital IC design, verification, and PCB design. Members of the University Software Program include all of the top 100 universities listed in US News & World Report. In
addition, Cadence University's Campus Program works closely with schools including San Jose State University, California State University Long Beach, University of Texas at Austin, and Moscow Institute of Electronic Technology in Russia, evolving their electrical and computer engineering programs to meet the technical human capital needs of their respective, local high-tech industry. The Campus Program provides ongoing faculty support, student internships, student scholarships, and software with support and training.”
Credence Systems Corp.
- “The company formed the Design and Test Software Division from prior TSSI, Fluence, Opmaxx and IMS VirtualTest software businesses. For this division, we have a University Partnership Program to provide our Design To Test software tools for educational use. The goal of our University Partnership Program is to strengthen engineering students' educational experience by providing the opportunity to gain a better understanding of test issues in electronic systems design. The University Partnership Program offers participating universities the use of Credence's major software product lines: TDS, TestDeveloper, and Digital VirtualTester for a nominal
fee. Once a University Partnership is initiated, Credence assists with the software setup and maintenance. We are keen to support the understanding of the “test” stage in the overall design process. Participating universities include Portland State University - we are a strong supporter of their ECE Department - University of Texas, and several international universities.”
Mentor Graphics Corp.
- “Through its Higher Education Program (HEP), the company offers a cost-effective way for more than 550 colleges and universities worldwide to acquire its commercial EDA software for classroom instruction at both undergraduate and graduate levels, and for non-commercial academic research. This helps ensure that engineering graduates are proficient with state-of-the-art tools and techniques. HEP is tailored to meet the specific requirements of the electrical engineering, computer science, or other academic departments of members. Upon acceptance into the program, institutions are eligible for the following benefits: access to over $10,000,000 USD
worth of commercial Mentor Graphics software for a minimal annual customer support fee (software/licenses are donated free of charge), free access to regular customer training for all department faculty and staff (based on space availability), access to technical support services, and notification of upcoming student design contests and student internships. Mentor's HEP has partnered with Europractice and the Canadian Microelectronics Corp to make these benefits available through their established programs as well.”
Monterey Design Systems - “Under the company's University Program, member universities receive access to our entire suite of EDA tools for a nominal fee. Universities worldwide are invited to apply. The Monterey product line includes IC Wizard, Sonar, and Dolphin and focuses on deep-submicron and nanometer SoC (system-on-chip) design. Universities find them attractive for research and for courses on IC design that focus on advanced process technologies and design methodologies. To date, the program has two member universities: Carnegie-Mellon University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.”
- “The company established a University License Program to grant limited access to its software by a selected group of universities for teaching and academic graduate-level research purposes, for a nominal fee. Participating universities are required to provide certain information regarding its utilization of the software and applicable results of their research to Nassda on a semi-annual basis. Each approved university receives an annual license of HSIM at a license fee of $1,000 per copy, though Nassda may waive the license fees. We only provide minimal training or support for our University Program participants. Our University License Program works
well for us, since it builds strong links with leading university research teams. Our current university partners are Stanford, University of Washington, Kyoto University, and Hiroshima University.”
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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.
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