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Breadth And Unity: A Revised Electrical Engineering Curriculum At Princeton University

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.89.1 - 1.89.7

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Paper Authors

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James C. Sturm

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A. Wolfe

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2432

Breadth and Unity: A Revised Electrical Engineering Curriculum at Princeton University

J.C. Sturm and A. Wolfe Department of Electrical Engineering Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544 Ph: 609-258-5610, Fax: -6279

Abstract The Electrical Engineering department at Princeton University has completely revised its undergraduate program. This paper will discuss the forces driving the change and the philosophy behind the reforms, and then give an overview of the changes in both the sophomore and upperclass years. The main themes of the reforms have been to encourage breadth (at the expense of depth if necessary) and to stress the relationship between academic topics and products.

Introduction The Electrical Engineering Department at Princeton University consists of 25 full-time faculty members (all of whom teach undergraduates), approximately 110 undergraduates (divided over sophomore, junior, and senior years) and about 100 graduate students, mostly at the Ph.D. level. From 1992 to 1994, the department undertook a wide ranging evaluation and reform of its undergraduate program. The evaluation led to a complete revision of its undergraduate courses. This paper will discuss the motivation which led to the evaluation, the guiding philosophy of the reforms, and then focus on the details of the reforms for both sophomore and upperclass years. Finally, outstanding issues will be mentioned.

Motivating Factors and Long Term Goals Prior to this revision, the basic undergraduate EE program at Princeton had not changed for some 30 years. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, several factors combined to lead the department to review its program. The first was the perceived changing nature of the incoming students. While equally as bright as their predecessors of 20 years ago, the students now seem to have less of an inherent feel for engineering and less of an idea of what it is that engineers really do. This had led to a lower interest in course material, especially in introductory level courses. While the first issue may be part of a national trend, the second issue was more of a local concern. Our undergraduate program had gravitated over the years to mirror our graduate program, with the end result that many of our students were leaving after four years with a degree of expertise almost that expected of a master’s student, but with an extreme lack of breadth. Third, from the late 80’s to early 90s the undergraduate enrollment in the EE department had dropped by nearly 40%, an effect which was not reflected in the engineering school as a whole. Finally, there was a desire to look forward and ask what the needs of future engineers would be. How could we best prepare our students to be future leaders in the field?

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Sturm, J. C., & Wolfe, A. (1996, June), Breadth And Unity: A Revised Electrical Engineering Curriculum At Princeton University Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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