DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Science SEAS Dean's Update

DeMatteis Dean Sina Rabbany: Collaborative New Curriculum

Not too many years ago, our Department of Engineering and our Department of Computer Science were constituent members of the Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Our visibility was not what it is today, but the association with other units traditionally found within such schools guaranteed that our students would have to spend a good portion of their academic careers studying outside their major subject areas. Of course, today all programs that are accredited still must meet minimum requirements of courses in the humanities and social sciences and in mathematics and the natural sciences, but a comparison of the degree of today with the degree of twenty-five years ago is worth examining.

Let me take the BS Mechanical Engineering program as an example. During the 1994-95 academic year, students needed to complete 137 credits to earn the degree, including 67 semester hours in the liberal arts. The ME student of today completes 131 credits to earn a degree, and only 54 are in the liberal arts. Gone are four credits of chemistry, three credits of mathematics, and six credits of literature and humanities or social sciences.

The previous example is by no means unique to one curriculum. In the quest to package programs that appeal to students interested in specific careers, there is certainly a temptation to exhibit tunnel vision, to focus so much on a given degree track that other contributors to a student’s broad education in college can be lost sight of. Nobody wants to tack on more credits to a degree, yet the development of new areas within a subject requires that the curriculum address them lest the degree seem antiquated. This is always a challenge to university educators.

At the DeMatteis School, we are trying to create programs that bridge gaps with other educational units on campus. The creation of new master’s programs affords us that opportunity. For example, our MS in Cybersecurity is a joint venture with the Zarb School of Business, as is our MS Engineering Management. Explorations with the Herbert School of Communication have resulted in the creation of a course in the area of virtual and augmented reality. Finally, the undergraduate degree program in Engineering Science is going to be open to a reconfiguration given the impending migration of students into the new BS Civil Engineering and BS Bioengineering degree programs. One model being discussed is creating emphases in physics, mathematics, and chemistry, within a basic framework of engineering courses that comprise a multidisciplinary engineering core of electrical and mechanical courses. As these initiatives mature, we value especially the input of our three advisory boards composed of industry leaders, some of whom are alumni who recall the days when we offered just a comprehensive BE Engineering Science degree with multiple specializations.

We should also not lose sight of the fact that we now offer many more opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom. These include the DeMatteis Co-op Program, the Advanced Summer Program in Research, Hofstra in Silicon Valley, the DeMatteis Executive Speaker Series, the engineering career fair, and our new W-SPiCe program (beginning this January) which is especially designed for women students deciding on which major to follow in the school. These ventures help to round out the educational experience significantly.

One fact of university life will never end:  the constant tinkering with the curriculum to make it more meaningful to students. As we continue on that path, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are engaged in providing them with not just a technical training, but with a university degree, with the breadth of knowledge that should accompany that achievement.

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Sina Rabbany

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