The best way to prepare U.S. engineering students to be globally competitive, says Belle Wei, dean of engineering at San Jose State University, is to show them what they're up against. That's why Wei pioneered the school's Global Technology Initiative, which sends selected students on an expenses-paid tour of Asian companies and universities. Wei also works closely with Silicon Valley companies, and is passionate about the need to attract more U.S. students to engineering. San Jose State's College of Engineering has 5,000 students, including 1,200 in electrical engineering, and offers BSEE and MSEE degrees. Running it is a busy job, but Wei took some time out recently to talk to EE Times' Richard Goering about engineering education in an age of globalization and offshoring.
EE Times: San Jose State University is located in the heart of Silicon Valley. How do you prepare engineering students to transition to real-world jobs?
Belle Wei: Silicon Valley is our engineering campus. Eighty percent of our students work outside of campus, and they work for Silicon Valley companies. These companies like to hire our students to work as interns, which is a good a way to see if there's a match between the student and the company. Our students see how what's learned in the classroom is applied in the real world. Usually they work full time during the summer, then have a part-time work arrangement during the regular semester.
EE Times: Given the trend toward outsourcing a lot of engineering tasks, how do you prepare your students to be globally competitive?
Wei: We're in a global business environment. U.S. engineers, with their higher salaries, just have to deliver higher value in terms of technology and in terms of understanding global business practices and opportunities. They need to use technology to understand real-world problems, and they need business knowledge. We actually started a business-minor program for engineering students this semester.
Because there's a very diverse culture here, American engineers, if given some training in sensitivity toward other cultures, will be in a very good position to integrate a global technical team.
EE Times: You've introduced a Global Technology Initiative as a way of helping students be more globally competitive. How does that work?
Wei: Each summer we send 25 top engineering students on a two-week, all-expense-paid study tour to Asia. Our students have been going to Taiwan and China for the last three years. During the trip, they visit corporations, research institutions and universities.
Students have heard about what's going on in China and India, but it's very different from actually being there and seeing it. They can see the global economy in action. Semiconductors are designed here, manufactured in Taiwan, and assembled and packaged in China. So they visit those companies. They're all struck by the pace of development.
EE Times: What do your students learn about engineering education in Asia?
Wei: They compare notes with their peers in China, and find that Chinese students work very hard. Usually our students here take four or five courses per semester. Chinese students take six or seven courses, and Chinese students also have plans for graduate school.
Our students also see how competitive they [Chinese students] are. When our students are on the trip, in May and June, there are national college entry exams for Chinese students. Only 25 percent of Chinese students have a chance to go into college. We're talking about over 9 million students. Our students had an opportunity to visit Tsinghua University. This is primarily an engineering-technology university, and they get the top 3,000 of over 9 million students. If students get a slot in college, they work hard.