Advancing Education in the Realm of Electrical Engineering
By Brian Warnecke
Faculty Member, Electrical Engineering at American Public University
National Instruments (NI) recently held their annual NI Week Conference, the primary learning and networking event for users of LabVIEW and NI hardware. There are interactive technical sessions, workshops, case study presentations by academic and industry professionals, and panel discussions.
The two themes of NI Week 2015 this year were “Big Analog Data” and “Building the Internet of Things.” Big Analog Data refers to much of the data that engineers of every profession need. As much as we say it is a digital world, analog information is still the dominant type of data as most physical processes are really analog. The “Internet of Things” refers to all of the interconnected devices, like appliances and sensors for automation that are going to be joining us on the internet in the coming years. These devices are going to make our homes more efficient and make our transportation safer, among other benefits.
The keynote presentations each day highlighted these two themes in the field such as communications, biomedical, the smart electrical grid, automation, and robotics. These presentations were led by NI employees, but the presenters were the stars — designers from every field of electrical engineering, CEOs of technology companies, professors from world- class universities around the world, and even engineering students.
I, along with several American Public University (APU) STEM colleagues, attended workshops on LabVIEW, digital design, embedded systems, robotics, image processing and vision, data acquisition, and testing of electronic systems. The mixture of presenters and participants at NI Week is invaluable. In a workshop, we had the great opportunity to learn from the LabVIEW designers, get the perspective of other university professors, and learn about the applications from engineers in the industry.
NI unveiled multiple new hardware products during the week. Of particular interest to our APU faculty was new programmable logic device hardware that will be coming out later this year. The new hardware allows students with newer operating systems to integrate easier with the hardware and will give students exposure to modern digital design tools.
Other advancements are coming to hardware in the embedded systems and mechatronics areas. Those new products, combined with new integration information that we learned at the conference, will allow APU to remain at the forefront of universities when it comes to instructing on industry current tools. I am particularly excited by new directions that the industry is taking in integrating programmable logic with microprocessors to optimize the performance of digital and embedded systems. Beyond the performance improvements, APU can be instructing on tools that minimize design time and time to market for new innovations.
Another exiting development for APU students will be the introduction of an early term course on LabVIEW and NI hardware. This new course, ELEN 100, was formally structured during NI Week. This course will allow early term students to be exposed to engineering design and electrical concepts earlier than ever in our program. As students are getting started in their programs, we have the capability to give students a glimpse into where the degree program is leading them. This will allow students to better see the entire picture of their degree program as they get started.
These conferences are critical due to the rapid advances made by NI and demanded by the industry. In fact, the rate of advancement is so rapid that textbooks can often not be written before new versions are being released. So these events are critical in enabling us to come up to speed faster with new developments and learn best practices from both industry and academic professionals.
Beyond this conference, APU professors, instructors and academic leaders are going to continue their integration of modern design tools into the electrical engineering curriculum. Additional training needs for instructors were identified and we will be working on supplementing our knowledge base to continue to deliver a high quality educational experience to you. Lifelong learning is critical to career growth and your instructors are committed to demonstrating that attribute.
Throughout your degree program at APU, you will have the opportunity to use LabVIEW in many of your courses. You will have the opportunity, as you approach the conclusion of your degree, to leverage that experience to achieve certifications in LabVIEW to supplement your education as you enter or advance through your engineering career. Start thinking about those certifications as you work through your degree program.
NOTE: The most exciting news from NI Week was that the APU Electrical Engineering program was featured at NI Week. Dean Dan Benjamin was on stage during the academic keynote address to NI Week attendees to present the success of the APU BSEE program. The academic keynote was on “Connecting Teaching, Research, and Industry. The keynote video is available now and online and Dan Benjamin is on stage at about 44:30.
NI Week 2015 was a personally amazing experience for me. I made new academic and industry contacts. I saw exciting and dynamic new directions that we can take our program and curriculum. I learned from some of the top electrical system designers in the world. I am already looking forward to NI Week 2016.
About the Author
Brian Warnecke was awarded a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Wright State University in Dayton, OH. He received a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Wright State University and a master’s in math education from Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, UT. With industry experience in the semiconductor industry and digital design, Mr. Warnecke is a faculty member in physics and electrical engineering at APU.