Student questions drive Town Hall conversation

10/27/2016 Julia Sullivan, ECE ILLINOIS

Topics included ECE 310, TA concerns, and cross-listing courses with CS @ ILLINOIS.

Written by Julia Sullivan, ECE ILLINOIS

Students gathered in the Grainger Auditorium on Wednesday night for the ECE ILLINOIS Town Hall meeting. The panel, moderated by ECE SAC Co-chair Tyler Hansen, included ECE Lecturer Zuofu Cheng, Associate Head for Undergraduate Affairs and Professor Erhan Kudeki, Department Head and Donald Biggar Willett Professor of Engineering William H Sanders, and Chief Advisor and Senior Lecturer Christopher Schmitz.

Students submitted questions to ECE SAC ahead of the meeting. Among the most popular topics was ECE 310. The panel explained that next semester, there would be three parallel sections of the course. The conversation pivoted to which courses are cross-listed with CS @ ILLINOIS. Prof. Kudeki explained that cross-listing is controlled at the campus level, and Prof. Sanders added that students are likely to see more courses cross-listed in the future. He added that more electives in popular areas are being developed by many of the new ECE ILLINOIS faculty.

An audience member introduced a question about how students are taught to solve problems, but not necessarily how to select the right problems or what the downstream impacts of that selection may be. He noted an example of how accessibility was not addressed during a problem explored in a class, and he offered several suggestions for expading the curriculum. Prof. Sanders acknowledged his concerns, saying that accessibility is "not only the right thing to do, but also a big motivator of why students come to engineering." He encouraged students to learn more about the new Siebel Center for Design, a place to "think about design in a holistic way." He also offered to meet with the student one-on-one to hear his ideas.

Moderator Tyler Hansen asked the panel about reports that some TAs have been giving preferential treatment "to students who speak their native tongue" and have helped some students in ways that could be considered unfair. The panel unequivocally and firmly said that this behavior is unacceptable. If a student observes or experiences this, they should make their professor aware of the situation. If they aren't able to resolve it, the panel invited students to reach out to any of them.

The last question of the evening was about how ECE ILLINOIS decides which programming languages to teach, and specifically, what is being done to be sure that graduates are best prepared for industry after graduation. Prof. Sanders explained that the department prioritizes a way of thinking instead of a specific language. The department works with an industry advisory board and alumni board to be sure that the curriculum is on target with what is needed in the workforce and ECE ILLINOIS graduates are well-positioned upon graduation.

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This story was published October 27, 2016.