When learning shifted to a virtual space in Spring 2020, College of Engineering professors Dr. Kip Haggerty and Dr. Jim Ary knew that keeping engineering students on track would require creative solutions.
In the College of Engineering, students get their hands dirty in on-campus labs, using soldering irons to create circuit boards and wielding standard equipment like oscilloscopes, multimeters, and waveform generators. As electrical engineering students and faculty prepared for a virtual Fall semester, Ary felt strongly that some kind of hands-on lab was needed, because "One of the strengths we feel in our program is students get experience using equipment."
Ary began searching for online vendors in spring, but traditional hardware in the U.S. tended to be in short supply and prohibitively expensive, and sourcing overseas presented numerous technical hurdles. The next best solution was a versatile hardware simulator - the National Instruments myDAQ, a device which simulates eight commonly used computer-based lab instruments and which is produced in the U.S. Purchasing enough units and accompanying components for every student was another challenge; to supplement funding, COE Interim Dean Dr. Tracy Bradley Maples contacted Southern California Edison, a longtime partner of the college.
CSULB’s Electrical Engineering students are a major working force at Edison, and in their three-decade relationship, Edison has collaborated with the college on joint proposals, senior projects and summer internships, taken part in the CSULB Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) annual Green Energy and Smart Systems Conference, and much more. Understanding how crucial hands on experience is to students in all class levels, Edison donated over $30,000 to fund the lab kits for 5 College of Engineering departments.
“SCE is proud to continue its strong and long lasting partnership with the CSULB and its engineering students by helping them continue their hands-on technical experience,” said Paul Grigaux, Vice President, T&D Asset Management, Strategy & Engineering at Southern California Edison. “We value innovative ideas such as the use of these hardware simulators in light of the challenges we continue to face in the midst of the pandemic. We hope that ideas such as these will inspire others to continue to think outside the box when leaning into their current learning environment.”
“The CECS Department is very thankful and grateful to the generosity of Southern California Edison,” said department chair Dr. Mehrdad Aliasgari. “This fund ensures that we can continue providing high quality hands-on education to the future generation of computer engineers during this pandemic.”
With Edison’s funding, the department was able to source and supply National Instruments myDAQs, Nexys A7: FPGA Trainer Boards and other equipment. For Dr. Haggerty’s Digital Controls and Senior Design project classes, the kits include a self-balancing robot that would only require a computer, a USB connection, and 6 AA batteries. Teams of students are able to practice the design of control systems by programming the robots with digital control algorithms.
After department chairs and faculty designed and procured the equipment, tech staff and IEEE student club volunteers assembled the components over several weeks and delivered them to the bookstore for students to pick up. Both professors created video tutorials to acclimate students with the new equipment, converting their home workspaces to produce demonstrations and simulate the genuine lab environment.