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New Computer Engineering Program Boosts SHU’s Technology Offerings

Hardware-building capabilities will complement software development classes

Sacred Heart University now offers a computer engineering degree to complement its existing, top-flight computer science programs. Students who graduate with a computer engineering degree will be qualified for careers in a variety of industries including software and hardware developing companies, automotive industry, aviation, telecommunications and health care.

The first course, “Engineering Explorations,” is being offered to freshman as an introduction to the field of engineering and the ground floor to earning a four-year computer engineering degree. Tolga Kaya, associate professor in the School of Computing in SHU’s College of Arts & Sciences, is leading the class.

The program will be critical in helping technology-oriented students gain a foundation in this area. “Sacred Heart already has very good computer science programs, like game design. Computer science is mostly about software: writing codes, developing websites, creating phone apps, etc. Computer engineering has the hardware components—designing and building the actual digital systems within which the software will reside,” Kaya explained.

Twenty students enrolled in the new computer engineering program this semester. Their first project was to design and create certain items with 3D printers—custom cups, acoustic speakers, doorstops, etc.—to sell on campus to raise funds for SHU’s community outreach programs.

Now the class is working on building LEGO® robots that will wrestle each other. Students will create the robots from standard LEGO® sets and then add sensors, microcomputers and wiring. The robots will be the approximate size of a basketball, according to Kaya. “Students will program them to work while learning the fundamentals of combining hardware and software. It’s all about optimization and overcoming failures along the way,” he said, noting that engineering is a process. “There’s the idea, then the plan, execution, assessment and improvements to make it better.”

In the spring, Kaya’s students will take “Engineering Explorations II,” in which they will demonstrate all they learned in the introductory class. Specifically, they will be asked to build a small prototype of a “smart” house, designing parts, producing them on a 3D printer and incorporating microcomputers that they program. These prototypes, when completed, will be displayed on campus.

Further, Sacred Heart is planning an innovation lab for the new West Campus (formerly GE’s corporate headquarters). Essentially a “makerspace,” an open lab space where people explore, tinker, invent and discover using tools and equipment, should be ready by fall 2018, according to Kaya. It will house such equipment as 3D printers, laser cutters and electronics—essentially, every tool needed to innovate in the computer field. It will be modeled after Yale University’s own makerspace, and Kaya describes it as “a garage workshop on steroids,” with applications for multiple academic disciplines including business, technology and computers.

Sacred Heart also is partnering with Rochester Polytechnic Institute and Columbia University to provide students with a dual-degree opportunity, through which they will obtain a liberal arts degree from Sacred Heart and an engineering degree through one of the partner schools.