What is an Electrical Engineering degree?
If you’re reading this page, then you probably already have an idea of what electrical engineering is.
But you can’t just roll out of the College of Engineering with a basic EE degree and expect to be able to design the nation’s electrical grid. At least not right away.
Any generic electrical engineering degree is primarily theoretical. In the words of our ABET accreditation objectives, you’ll learn about electrical power generation, communication systems, instrumentation, circuit design and microprocessor design. But there’s more to becoming an electrical engineer than just that.
College teaches you how to think and learn
Here’s the deal: upon graduation you’ll find yourself out in the industry as a newly-minted engineer, having been exposed to all things electrical engineering related, with an academic framework for learning how to design anything.
There is no ultimate manual for designing a control system for a robot, but our goal is to teach you the mental tools to ask the right questions and fill in the blanks on your own, to think and learn more for yourself.
The electrical engineering program is accredited by the Engineering Commission of ABET.
Let’s start with the resources MU has put into the College of Engineering. With the addition of a new wing to Lafferre Hall, we’re up to 51,000 square feet of total lab space. That’s just for engineering. And a lot of that lab space is available to you, depending on what you do with your time here.
It goes beyond normal classes with lab sections attached. Starting as early as freshman year you have the opportunity to get a jump on your graduate research career. The opportunities only increase with time. And with Electrical Engineering, some of it can be downright futuristic: micro electrical mechanical systems (MEMS), self-assembling robots, chip-size nuclear batteries.
And once you’ve got some research under your belt, you’ll want to get the word out to future employers.
A native of Lee’s Summit, Mo., Phil Vanduesen transferred to MU’s College of Engineering from UMKC in 2002, graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 2005.
Vanduesen immediately went to work for Honeywell in Kansas City, where he had worked as a summer intern for four years.
“I worked in product development,” he said, explaining that Honeywell specializes in non-nuclear components for nuclear weapons. “Part of my responsibility included developing the automated test systems for the products we had developed.”
In 2008, Vanduesen took a job with National Instruments working as a sales engineer — selling some of the products he used to develop test systems at Honeywell.
“I work in an office out of my house,” Vanduesen said, adding that he is quite fond of the situation. “Almost all of my customers are engineers. A lot of them are MU people, which helps to build relationships.”
Vanduesen has served as a college recruiter for both Honeywell and National Instruments. “Going to MU is great for the contacts you make. A degree from MU instantly gives you credibility.”
Vanduesen said he has a lot of fond memories of MU, in and out of class.
“The people in my classes were good. We all helped each other out,” he said. “I still keep in touch with friends from school.”
Professor Emeritus Michael Devaney was his favorite professor.
“Jim Fischer [a resident instructor] was also great, and my advisor, Tami Beatty, was fantastic,” Vanduesen said, adding that he still drops by the department to “catch up” when he is there demonstrating his National Instruments wares to the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.
“They try to make the department as much like industry as possible with modern equipment so students will have experience with it when they go into the workplace.”
Vanduesen and his wife, Missy, live in Lee’s Summit. Their son, Luke, will be two in March.
It’s not just a bulletin board in the hallway. Our Career Services office assists you with job searches and other opportunities. Among other resources, etiquette workshops and interview help allows you to tap into our collective wisdom instead of going at it alone. Our Career events are a prime opportunity for you to meet with representatives from prospective employers, and for them to harvest from the best and the brightest right out of college.
Labs and Career Services aren’t what really set MU apart, though. And we’re not just talking about that prized male-to-female ratio.
Mizzou Campus Culture
Alexis Hunt, a native of St. Louis, was always surrounded by engineering as she grew up. Her parents enrolled her in various math and science programs like The Bridge program at UMSL, and she had an aunt in the computer science field. Hunt also took an introductory class to engineering at the University of Missouri – Columbia that helped peak her interest even more.
Hunt was undeclared when she started at MU, but she ended up choosing to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.
“I found it challenging and interesting, and I enjoy challenges,” Hunt said.
She graduated in December 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. By January 2009, Hunt began working full time with Ameren Missouri at the Callaway Nuclear Plant in Fulton, MO. She had interned with the company in the summer of 2008, and was hired upon her graduation.
Hunt currently works in the Performance Engineering Department and is the owner of the large motor and thermography program. She is a component engineer that is responsible for ensuring the overall performance and reliability of the components within her programs. She accomplishes this by using a variety of predictive maintenance techniques such as thermography, vibration analysis, and static and dynamic motor testing. Hunt also manages the preventive maintenance tasks.
Through thermography, for example, Hunt uses infrared technology to detect radiation so she can find component issues by looking at the heat objects emit.
“I enjoy my job. I’m faced with different issues constantly and the job is not the same thing all the time. I get to go out into the field and solve problems. I find issues and ways to resolve the situation before failure. That’s the most exciting part for me,” Hunt said.
Hunt feels that the classes she took at MU have helped her greatly in her career.
“As an electrical engineer you have to take a circuits course, a transmission lines course, a feedback theory course and power electronics. Those are the ones that jump out to me. The things taught in those classes are things I’ve used on a regular basis.”
Hunt feels that the MU Engineering program provided her the stepping-stones needed to be a successful engineer.
“I took the knowledge and skills I learned in school and applied them to my job,” Hunt said.
What is Hunt’s advice for anyone considering electrical engineering? Get involved. Hunt was part of the National Society of Black Engineers, where she was able to network and form study groups that helped her greatly. Organizations like NSBE often have career fairs and conferences that help place students with companies after college. Hunt met representatives from her current employer, Callaway, at one of NSBE’s monthly meetings.
Hunt’s other piece of advice is to not take classes just for credit. She said that a lot of students don’t think they will need their classes after college, but that is not the case with engineering at Mizzou. She constantly uses the skills she gained in the engineering program.
“You have to take advantage of the knowledge you’re paying to get. Take as much from college as you can,” Hunt said.
Out in the industry, engineers don’t work in a bubble and the College of Engineering doesn’t put you in one. With a campus large enough to rate its own zip code (65211), there’s plenty of room for 7 colleges and 12 schools with everything from journalism to veterinary medicine. What that really means is a definite advantage in fostering a rich interdisciplinary environment.
It starts with your freshman and sophomore classes, where you’ll never know what the person sitting next to you could be majoring in. It’ll be a mix of ideas, experiences and motives that can help prepare you for life after college in ways you might never suspect.
A True Interdisciplinary Research Environment
As you progress, your classes will become more electrical engineering-centric, but the integration doesn’t disappear. Your instructors will be experienced with thinking beyond their discipline and collaborating with specialists of all flavors. Our research centers, programs and groups benefit from a broad range of experts all on one campus.
Customizing your degree
Electrical engineering is one of the more versatile disciplines. Recognizing this, the electrical engineering department has designed emphasis areas that would allow you to steer your degree towards whatever you happen to be interested in.
- Communications and Signal Processing
- Computational Neuroscience
- Computer Vision
- Control Systems
- Intelligent Robots
- Micro/Nanoelectgromechanical Systems (M/NEMS)
- Nuclear Science
- Pattern Recognition
- Power Systems
- Robot Vision
- Honors Research
For further specialization and diversification of your skillset, not to mention boosting your resume and hands-on experience, there are those numerous research opportunities we mentioned above. There’s a good chance you could end up in one of those shiny labs.
Your degree is what you make of it
In 2009, 11,488 students graduated with a bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering in the United States. That’s pretty stiff competition, and all of them will be looking to stand out from the pack.
Remember the theoretical degree? That’s what they all have, too. But we’ve been talking about augmenting, customization and seizing opportunities. In other words, taking an extra leap to go beyond the theoretical with some solid, practical experience that tells employers you have the initiative to venture out of the classroom, or cubicle.
Now imagine someone walking up to you, handing you $15,000, and saying, “Here. Build a Formula Race Car with this. Good luck,” and walking away.
This is essentially what happens with MU’s Formula SAE team – every year.
If you build it, they will come
Each competition team has its particular applications for each engineering discipline, but what they all have in common is the radical idea of engineers working together, for a tangible finished product you’ll be able to point at in the end and say, “See? I built that.” Teams suited to Electrical Engineering include the Formula SAE race car and Tigergen – building a hydrogen powered car from scratch. Then there’s AIAA (rockets!) and Basic Utility Vehicle. See all engineering student orgs.
On the academic organization side, there’s the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers, or IEEE, and Eta Kappa Nu. With IEEE alone there are opportunities to work on manned aerial vehicles, robotics and black box competitions. And you’ll get further chances to expand your education with field trips to Boeing and Fermilab.
126 credit hours later
At some point, after the theory, research and internships, the question will be asked, “Why am I getting this degree again?”
One of the appeals of electrical engineering comes from the ability to develop new products and be hands-on about it. For a simple illustration, you don’t have to look farther than the senior capstone projects. Civil and chemical engineering students can’t very well fabricate a chemical plant or community power grid in the classroom, so their final product is at most plans and blueprints and calculations. The electrical engineering student can be just as comfortable in the abstract realms of design, but the project process goes further than just the mind and the computer. At the end, there will be a physical product that the engineer has designed, built and debugged with their own hands.
So in other words, if you like poking and prodding at shiny objects, EE might just be for you.