Computer engineering will be offered as a degree program next fall -- if the computer science and electrical engineering departments get their way.
Since January 1997, the Engineering School has had a computer engineering program but not a separate computer engineering major, Engineering Prof. Joanne Bechta Dugan said.
Dugan said the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accredited the program in January 1997 as a separate program within the Engineering School.
"I started this program here because of feedback from my advisees and because of my own personal interest in the field," she said. "We got special permission for a group of students to start this program."
The Faculty Senate approved the computer engineering degree program last Monday. The Board of Visitors will consider it at its meeting Friday, and from that point it must be approved by the state and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, she added.
Dugan said the degree program would help teach students skills that are increasingly valuable in the job market.
"There is a really strong need for people to understand software," she said. "It helps them to understand the computer as a system."
Now students who want to take the computer engineering program have to major in electrical engineering and also take the classes for computer engineering because the degree program has not been approved officially, said Prof. James H. Aylor, electrical engineering chairman.
He said computer engineering students have a broader curriculum than computer science students and would benefit from a unique degree program.
"Computer science people are more interested in the programming aspect -- they don't know much about how the computer is constructed," he added. "Computer engineering students have taken the basics of electrical engineering, concentrated in computer aspects, and have also taken a lot of computer science courses."
Fourth-year computer engineering student Bernie Wu said the computer engineering program offers students a well-rounded education.
"Instead of just concentrating on hardware, like many electrical engineering majors, or concentrating on software, like computer science majors, there's a balance of both hardware and software which may prove very useful in the job market," Wu said.
"With a [computer engineering] program, the promise of a good job after graduation may give students more incentive to enroll in the [Engineering] school," he said.
Aylor said computer engineering is one of the top areas in the engineering field and is expected to grow over the next five years.
Offering a computer engineering degree would benefit both the University and the students, Dugan said.
"This provides another way for students to get involved in the information technology field," she said. "We think this will attract more students to the University."
Many schools across the country are developing computer engineering programs, Aylor said.
"Most schools with electrical engineering have computer engineering," he said.
Dugan said there is a large demand for computer engineering at the University.
"Most of my advisees want to do computer engineering," she said. "It's at least as popular as electrical engineering and computer science."
Aylor said the computer engineering program eventually will take some students away from electrical engineering.
"A large portion of electrical engineering people are really interested in computer technology," he said. "Ultimately, there will be fewer students in electrical engineering"