Engineering department maintains Pacific standard of excellence

Online Class

The fall 2020 semester is not like anything anyone could have imagined one year ago and University of the Pacific’s School of Engineering and Computer Science students and faculty have needed to innovate and adapt to a constantly changing world.

“Our professors really learned from last semester and were prepared to start online this fall,” said engineering student Davis Young ‘22.

For Young, he sees a clear improvement in the way faculty within the School of Engineering and Computer Science have handled this new online format. “Last Spring, I know that it was really hard to transition all of a sudden when Pacific went fully remote.” While he felt a difference in classes back then, he acknowledged how strong the quality of learning has been since school started this fall.

To help students, faculty and staff stay connected throughout the day, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering set up a Slack workspace in the spring of 2020. Slack is a channel-based messaging platform that allows groups of people to work together effectively and has proven to be essential for many businesses in this new remote environment. “It’s helpful for us even outside of class,” says ECPE Department Chair Elizabeth Basha. “A lot of us use it for office hours too and even beyond office hours. People can just type a question in and we can answer it whenever people are free.

Cameron Costa, the Graduate Teaching Assistant for Advanced Digital Design and current Masters of Engineering Science student, thinks that with Slack it’s even easier to contact people than ever before. “Everyone’s looking at it. Right now, everyone is always on their phone or at their computers so you can reach them pretty easily.”

To assist students with lab work, the school shipped lab kits to bring Pacific’s hands-on-learning environment to students’ homes. These kits were sent out to six different classes consisting of freshman through senior students. Weekly, juniors and seniors in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE) gather for their Advanced Digital Design lab over Zoom. Using breakout rooms, a Zoom feature that has assisted many faculty members in recreating in-class group work, Associate Professor and Chair of ECpE Elizabeth Basha divides her class into their lab and worksheet groups.

Students boot up ModelSim, multi-language HDL simulation environment, on their computers and use Zoom’s screen sharing capabilities to work through their assignment together.  

“I think we’re lucky because computer engineering labs, specifically the advanced digital design lab, is one you can do 100% at home. The school shipped us our boards and because of that it's just so easy to do these labs,” said Aaron LeDawson ’21.

When asked about the differences between this semester’s online labs and previous in-person labs, LeDawson commented, “There are no major differences in my opinion.”

Labs are just one of the many ways that students are experiencing innovation at Pacific. Juniors in the School of Engineering and Computer Science will attend the Cooperative Education Program’s Virtual Meet-Up event on October 1 from 11 am to 1 pm where they will connect with potential employers. Normally held as an in-person career fair, this new event utilizes Zoom breakout rooms to give students webcam-to-webcam time with companies that interest them. Even though this semester is virtual, Pacific is preparing all its students for an in-person future.