U.S. News gives online engineering education program high marks

January 26, 2012

Online engineering education at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering is earning recognition for its quality and innovation.

In recent national rankings by U.S. News & World Report, ASU’s engineering schools place number two for student services and technology provided in an online graduate engineering program. For that ranking category the publication assesses such services as online access to academic advisement and technical support for students, as well as the quality of technological resources used in online teaching. ASU online engineering education students Download Full Image

The program is ranked number 16 in the country in student engagement and accreditation and 17 in faculty credentials and training.

U.S. News and World Report sought data for the rankings from more than 250 institutions with graduate engineering programs accredited by ABET, the leading engineering and technology education accreditation board. The rankings place ASU’s online program at the level of those offered at many of the most prominent engineering schools and colleges.

Industry collaborations

Such rising stature reflects ongoing efforts to improve online graduate engineering education at ASU, says Jeffrey Goss, assistant dean for Global Outreach and Extended Education for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Emphasis has been put on making the program accessible to working professionals and providing them with degree programs and courses to prepare students for the changing career environment in the engineering professions, Goss says.

The 10-year-old online program stands out for its collaborations with industry and government agencies in developing relevant content for courses.

“We want to ensure students are getting an education that gives them the knowledge and skills that are most in demand in the marketplace,” Goss says.

Eighty-five full-time engineering faculty members teach in the program, which currently has more than 350 students from the United States and several other countries.

Customized education

Students can select from among 10 master’s degree programs and three graduate-level academic certificate programs.

Degree programs include:

•    electrical engineering
•    engineering science (enterprise systems or software engineering)
•    embedded systems
•    modeling and simulation
•    quality engineering, reliability and statistical engineering
•    systems engineering
•    industrial engineering
•    materials science and engineering

In addition, graduate certificates are offered in statistics, sustainable technology and management, and in nuclear power generation. There are also noncredit professional development programs in systems engineering, as well as Lean and Six Sigma certifications that focus on business-process and product-improvement strategies.

Custom education programs are designed for national and international corporations, government agencies and university partners, and there are educational partnerships with organizations and students in Southeast Asia – including China – South America, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Ireland.

High-quality resources

University of Arizona computer engineering graduate Tyler Nelson, who recently earned a master’s degree in computer software engineering through ASU’s program, says he found the online classes convenient.

“I liked being able to pause the lectures or speed them up, depending on my needs,” he says. “It was easy to turn in homework and I never experienced any technical problems uploading homework or tests.”

Video and audio quality for the online instruction was high-quality, he says, “and I like all the resources provided to students, such as the licenses that enabled us to use new software programs.”

More importantly, Nelson says, “teachers were very understanding of the issues faced by students who have full-time jobs and need to take courses online.”

Nelson earned his degree in two and a half years – taking classes online from his home in southern Arizona, almost 200 miles from ASU’s Tempe campus – and had landed a new job with higher pay by the time he graduated.

Instruction from leading experts

Daniel Wilding says he chose the ASU program over those of several other universities after comparing schedule flexibility, course content and faculty.

“ASU’s best engineering courses are offered online, and I was impressed by the caliber of the professors who teach them. They are experts at the forefront of their fields,” says Wilding, a digital hardware engineer for National Instruments in Texas.

Also appealing was the option to substitute courses to fit individual interests. “I was able to switch to a course in high-performance computing that related more closely to the work I want to do,” he says.

Wilding completed the course work to earn his master’s degree in electrical engineering with an emphasis in embedded systems in 2011 from his home near Austin.

“I found [the program] exciting because all the courses were interesting, and it really deepened my knowledge,” he says. “I’m more current with my field, and now I have extra education that makes me more competitive for technology leadership positions.”

Gaining deeper knowledge

Srikanth Sirobushanam chose to enroll in the online program on the recommendation of engineering colleagues at Intel Corp. in Chandler, Ariz. He is employed in Intel’s manufacturing operations, and returned to college after 12 years working in the industry since earning an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering in his native country of India.

“I want to go deeper into manufacturing equipment development and eventually into research, which requires deep knowledge of electrical engineering and embedded systems,” he says.

While continuing to work full-time, Sirobushanam earned a master’s degree in 2011 in embedded systems through ASU’s online engineering program.

“With the master’s degree I have a strong toe-hold in this domain, and now I plan in a year or two to pursue a doctoral degree in this area,” he says.

Ensuring improvements

There are plans to expand education offerings with the launch of online studies for a degree in engineering management. It will focus on leadership education, including training in skills necessary for project collaborations with partners in professions outside of engineering, and doing business in the global marketplace.

In the next year the engineering schools’ Global Outreach and Extended Education office will be implementing new methods to ensure continued improvement in the online engineering education program, Goss says.

The effort will include providing more options for training faculty in online teaching skills, and more and better ways for students to engage in the program on an individual basis.

For more information, visit ASUEngineeringOnline.com. For information on the  U.S. News & World Report rankings, click here and here.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


'Odditorium' stories are odd, really

January 26, 2012

Writers, as they go through life, notice and absorb, sometimes unconsciously, the things that are occurring around them and the people they encounter. Sights, sounds, scents, senses, all are tucked away.

Without intention, they are tucking these thoughts and memories away to be used in a story, some day. When that story is ready to be told, it will begin to nudge the writer into action, into putting words on paper. Download Full Image

The eight stories in Melissa Pritchard’s new book, “The Odditorium,” began to tug at her pen and her heart five years ago. Extraordinary people who had long fascinated her, hotels with haunted histories, museums of bizarre abnormalities – all fought for a presence.

“The Odditorium” is now published, and already it has won rave reviews:

• O, The Oprah Magazine, named Pritchard’s book one of “Ten Titles to Pick Up Now,” saying, “The stories in this strange and original collection bend genres—horror, mystery, Western—into wondrous new shapes.”

• In January, the book was reviewed as an "Oprah Book of the Week."

• One of the stories, "Patricide," is available for download on O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine's  iPad application.

• Barnes and Noble will be doing an author showcase of the collection on their Nook site, "More in Store," in February.

• New York City-based WordTheatre will dramatize part of “The Odditorium,” with Pritchard in the audience, on May 6 in Soho House, New York. Tickets are $25. Order tickets here.

• Carolyn Kellogg wrote a lengthy review of the book that was published in the Los Angeles Times Jan. 15. Kellogg writes of Pritchard, at the end of her review, “She takes risks, different risks in different stories. Can she write a segment in the form of a comedic Shakespearean dialogue? She can. Does a story evolve into epistolary form? It does. Will she be able to build a story around the format of an old newspaper feature? She will. Can she do it all with poetic, vivid prose? With one hand tied behind her back.”

“The Odditorium” includes separate but linked stories with such titles as “Pelagia, Holy Fool,” “Watanya Cicilia” (the title is explained in the middle of the story) and “The Nine-Gated City.”

“Each story has its own genesis, but in each case, I had become fascinated with the story's central character,” Pritchard said. “Robert Ripley, for instance – as a child, I had loved his ‘Believe It or Not’ Sunday cartoons. Sharp shooter Annie Oakley was a childhood heroine of mine, and some of the other characters I wrote about, I stumbled upon in my reading, people like Kaspar Hauser or Pelagia, Holy Fool.

“The main criteria for each story was that something about the person or place obsessed me enough to do the research required. After touring the La Specola Museum in Florence, Italy, I knew I would be writing about the fantastic, 18th century medical wax anatomies I had seen there.
“I stayed in the Richmond, Va., hotel featured in ‘Patricide,’ in the very room I write about, and its haunted history compelled me to imagine a rather dire tale of two sisters.”
Each of the stories also is influenced by architecture, Pritchard added, ranging from the almost-deserted, ghostly Royal Victoria Military Hospital to the lavish Imperial Hotel in Delhi, India, incongruous in a city of poverty and human suffering, a hotel where Pritchard also has stayed.
The language of stories ranges from seemingly breathless writing to leisurely descriptions of the landscape. One of the former is the Ripley of her imagination:

“Mr. Ripley was no looker. Melon-headed, with no more hair than the tines on an oyster fork, bucktoothed (his overbite part fang, part awning), he gained glorious ground wearing bat-winged polka-dot ties, knickerbocker pants, argyle socks, two-toned spats, pith helmets, and Panama hats, natty togs in lurid, eye-stabbing colors.

“At the pinnacle of his celebrity, he sported maroon silk Chinese robes and multi-tasseled monkey caps around BION (Believe It or Not), his twenty-eight room mansion in Mamaroneck, New York – retreating on occasion to his favorite ‘curioddity,’ Mon-Lei, a Chinese junque fitted out with twin diesel engines at cross purposes with its billowing, painted sails, so that Ripley was often forced to bob around the harbor outside his home or just sort of spin in a lazy figure eight out there, sipping gin from a Buddhist monk’s yellowed brain pan, part of his human skull collection.”

A more languid passage is from ”Captain Brown and the Royal Victoria Military Hospital”:

“Heedlessly, he wore his new slippers, not yet broken-in, slippers his wife had sent him, made of tobacco-colored leather, with a yellow foulard patterned silk lining. In the moonlight, the pear trees shimmered in their gossamer, ordered rows. An orchard’s beauty lay in its cultivated order, its exact rows of like trees, a green geometry to frame the subtleties of each individual tree, the snowy, fragrant blossoms, the fruit, hard, a speckled green, and female-shaped.”

Pritchard has written three novels and four collections of short stories. Which is the most difficult? “For me, one is not harder than the other, really – I tend to alternate between the two,” she said. “For example, now I am back at work on a short novel, and that feels like a relief after the collection. And after I finish the novel, it will be a relief to turn to stories!”