Embedded systems, more commonly known as those small computers that help control everything from automobile engines to coffee makers, will be the focus of a new undergraduate engineering degree proposed by the University of St. Thomas.

The university’s faculty and administrative committees have approved the new bachelor of science in electrical engineering program. Before St. Thomas can officially offer the degree, however, it must be approved by the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office.

If the degree receives state approval, St. Thomas hopes to begin offering electrical engineering classes this fall, according to Dr. Ron Bennett, director of the university’s graduate and undergraduate engineering programs.

St. Thomas will be the state’s first private college or university to offer the B.S.E.E., and the fifth Minnesota college or university to offer a bachelor’s in electrical engineering or the closely related degree in computer engineering.

Bennett said the electrical engineering program is being developed in response to strong interest from students and engineering-related companies from throughout the region. A committee of industry professionals helped design the B.S.E.E. curriculum.

Nationally, electrical and computer engineering is the fastest growing segment of the engineering profession. Minnesota, however, has only been producing about 200 graduates each year in these fields, compared with more than 20,000 nationwide. Annual job growth in the electrical engineering field has been 10 to 15 percent in recent years and is projected to continue at that rate.

If the program is approved by the state, St. Thomas hopes to enroll about 25 students in the program this fall, and about 80 students within five years.

The new degree, Bennett explained, is hands-on, industry-oriented and career focused. It blends theory and research with practical engineering fundamentals. Seniors in the program will work on real projects with regional companies. The program follows ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) requirements under the Engineering Criteria 2000.

In addition to the liberal arts courses required of all St. Thomas graduates, the 36-course curriculum provides a foundation in electronics, digital design, circuit analysis, microprocessor design, signals and systems, embedded systems, and electromagnetic fields and waves.

The program is designed to prepare students for an engineering position in industry or for advanced study in graduate engineering and other professional schools.

St. Thomas’ undergraduate Engineering Department already offers the bachelor of science in mechanical engineering in three concentrations: mechanical engineering, mechanical engineering with an emphasis in manufacturing, and mechanical engineering with an emphasis in mechatronics. The mechatronics concentration, the only one offered in Minnesota, brings together mechanical, electrical, control systems and software engineering.

At the graduate level, the university’s Department of Manufacturing Systems and Engineering offers three degree programs: the master of manufacturing systems engineering, the master of science in manufacturing systems, and the master of science in technology management.

Like all of St. Thomas’ engineering programs, the B.S.E.E. will be headquartered in the Frey Science and Engineering Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. The new program will take advantage of labs created for existing undergraduate and graduate programs. About $220,000 in additional lab equipment will be required for the B.S.E.E. program.

For more information about the proposed new undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, call Dr. Jeffrey Jalkio in the St. Thomas Engineering Department at (651) 962-5750. Information also is available on St. Thomas’ Web site at http://www.stthomas.edu/engineering.