Electrical and Computer Engineering ramps up support for the Tech Talent Innovation Program (TTIP)

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The ambitious goals of the commonwealth’s Tech Talent Investment Program (TTIP) include garnering an additional 25,000 graduates in computer science, computer engineering, and software engineering over the next 20 years. To help meet the goals, George Mason University’s Department of Electrical and Computing Engineering (ECE) has a three-part strategy to increase the number of graduates from its Master of Science in Computer Engineering program. 

#1: Offer qualified applicants direct admission. 

First, ECE admissions will begin offering direct admission to students with relevant backgrounds who have applied to the Master of Science in Computer Science (CS) program. Associate professor Tolga Soyata, the TTIP coordinator for the ECE department, explains that some students apply to the CS master’s program whose backgrounds are more suitable for ECE than CS. He notes many applicants may not clearly understand the difference between computer science and computer engineering. There may also be confusion resulting from international applicants whose backgrounds are slightly different than standard CS or CE undergraduate degrees in the United States. For the past six months, instead of flat-out denying admission to such applicants, the CS department communicates with ECE about which applicants might deserve to be offered admission to the ECE MS degree instead of the CS MS.  

“The CS department periodically sends us a list of the applicants who are not a match for them but a good match for us. We look at those applications and accept or deny. We started this process last semester, which resulted in 30+ applicants being accepted into the MS in Computer Engineering program. This semester, we have accepted close to 90 applicants and expect to reach over 100,” Soyata says.   

This is a clear boon toward TTIP goals. Soyata explains, “In the end, regardless of whether the applicant goes to the computer science or computer engineering department, from a TTIP standpoint, they are going to count towards TTIP numbers, which is a CEC-level goal, rather than any individual department.” 

#2: Promote BAM Program to undergraduates. 

ECE’s second effort towards TTIP goals involves building awareness of ECE’s bachelor’s to accelerated master’s (BAM) program. ECE academic advisor Smriti Kansal has headed up BAM awareness efforts, and, with the recent introduction of the TTIP program, Soyata has joined her.  

The BAM program allows undergraduates majoring in Computer Engineering to take up to 12 credits of graduate-level classes during their senior year. Those credits can be applied to both the Computer Engineering bachelor’s degree and the Computer Engineering master’s degree. The program requires that undergraduates have at least a 3.0 GPA as juniors. Soyata suspects the BAM program is the best way to encourage in-state enrollment in graduate programs, as undergraduates may be encouraged to tack on a graduate degree to their academic careers. After all, if a student graduates with 12 credits toward a master’s degree, he or she only needs an additional 18 credits to complete the degree; this could be accomplished in two semesters.  

“A lot of our students work and pursue their BAM degree,” Soyata says, noting some of those students find employers willing to partially defray the cost of an additional two semesters of graduate school. “Companies [may] pay for part of it, and then our classes are at night, like 4:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.” Soyata adds that many ECE master’s classes are available in person—at both the Fairfax and Mason Square campuses—or as distance learning courses, which affords students additional flexibility. He encourages all ECE faculty and staff to introduce the BAM program option to undergraduate students.   

#3: Establish a bridge program for non-majors interested in an ECE master’s.  

Finally, Soyata is developing a bridge program to prepare undergraduate students in different technical majors for the ECE master’s program. If, for example, a student majoring in chemical engineering wants to pursue a master’s in computer engineering, that student would be able to apply to the ECE’s bridge BAM program. Such students would have a good core background but would be missing certain electrical and computer engineering knowledge. These students will be able to earn a certificate in necessary supplemental background coursework before proceeding to the ECE master’s program. Soyata describes this as a graduate certificate.  

“They would have to take five courses to get that certificate,” he explains, adding, “Once they have that certificate, we will count that towards the gaps in [their] undergraduate [studies], so that now we can admit [them] to the master’s in computer engineering.” The bridge program is set to launch in fall of 2024.