The Relationship of the Computer Engineering Program to Campus Mission

Computer Engineering is a highly dynamic and rapidly growing field. While its roots lie at the bridge between Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Computer Engineering has evolved into its own separate and distinct field with a core body of knowledge [1,2] and recognized areas of research [3]. For more than two decades, the Accrediting Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) has offered separate accreditation to Computer Engineering programs, and groups that rank graduate and undergraduate programs now list Computer Engineering separately [4]. As evidenced by the explosive growth in computers, communications and their eventual confluence to realize the full potential of the information revolution, the state-of-the-art is being advanced continually in this field. There are several high quality journals dedicated to research areas within Computer Engineering that are published by the two major professional societies that represent the field: the IEEE Computer Society [5] and the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) [6]. Numerous conferences are devoted to research in Computer Engineering [7], with some very prestigious ones having acceptance ratios as low as 8 to 10 percent [8]. An indicator of the extremely highly dynamic nature of Computer Engineering is the fact that conferences are considered more appropriate for the timely dissemination of research results rather than journals since the research advances so rapidly that the standard journal publication schedule is too long. Many prestigious universities have recognized Computer Engineering's significance and independence from Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, and are among the growing number of academic institutions offering a doctoral degree in Computer Engineering (e.g., University of California at San Diego, University of Southern California, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, University of Texas at Austin, Texas A & M University, North Carolina State University, University of Florida, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, and most recently Lehigh University). Nationally, Computer Engineering has arrived and is on the ascent. It has increasingly become a regular graduate offering at leading research universities.

Creation of master's and Ph.D. level graduate programs at UMBC is an important step in the long-term planning of the Computer Science and Electrical Engineering (CSEE) Department and the College of Engineering. First, Computer Engineering is an emerging strength within the CSEE Department. Establishing separate graduate programs in this field would demonstrate to the academic community that this field is a priority area at UMBC. This has direct bearing on the ability of the CSEE department to hire high quality research faculty to teach in the existing undergraduate Computer Engineering program. This, in turn, has a direct impact on the quality of the bachelor's degree program in Computer Engineering. Second, there is a shortage of graduates at both the master's and Ph.D. level for industry and academic positions nationally. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education [9], both the Computer Science and Computer Engineering fields are experiencing a shortage of faculty recruits, "because too few students are graduating with doctorates in the fields." With the rapid increase in the number of undergraduate and graduate programs in Computer Engineering, and their steadily rising enrollments, the shortage of faculty in particular is expected to remain high for the foreseeable future. At many institutions Electrical Engineering and Computer Science faculty without backgrounds in Computer Engineering areas are masquerading as Computer Engineering faculty in order to cover the course offerings. Finally, because of the rapid pace of research development in the field of Computer Engineering, tremendous research and scholarly opportunities are available for UMBC faculty to make a significant contribution to the emerging body of knowledge. UMBC can do its part to alleviate these personnel shortages and be responsive to scholarly opportunities by establishing a world-class Computer Engineering graduate program.

In this field, industry is pushing the state-of-the-art hand-in-hand with academic institutions. High tech U.S. companies such as Intel, IBM, AT&T, Lucent Technologies, and Microsoft, as well as multinationals like NEC, Toshiba and Fujitsu, pour much more money into R & D than any other source (state and federal agencies, foundations). They run world- renowned research facilities like the AT&T Labs, Bell Labs of Lucent Technologies, IBM research center in Yorktown Heights, NEC's Princeton Research Institute and Xerox Palo Alto Research labs. Industry therefore needs employees with a wide spectrum of skills: bachelors to do implementation and testing, master's for design and development, and doctorates for leading roles in research to explore the next generation of technologies.

UMBC currently offers Baccalaureate degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science and graduate degrees (M.S. and Ph.D.) in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Drawing upon current strengths in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, UMBC intends to build a new Computer Engineering graduate program in order to attract more high quality students and faculty.

Central to the campus mission is the focus on supporting the State's economic development efforts and satisfying Maryland's workforce needs. The Computer Science and Electrical Engineering (CSEE) Department supports that mission with its expertise in the areas of optical communications, remote sensing, biomedical signal and image processing, and mobile and wireless networks, agents, and applications. According to the mission statement, "UMBC will continue to contribute to Maryland's economic future through academic programs, workforce training, and applied research in bio-technology, health care, engineering, public policy, education, telecommunications and information technology," (May 1999).

A graduate program in Computer Engineering (CMPE) is thoroughly consistent with the mission of the University. Engineering education, training, and research are central to UMBC's undergraduate and graduate programmatic emphasis: the campus is committed to increasing the number of students pursuing degrees in the sciences, engineering, and information technology fields. Computer Engineering is an integral component of the broad umbrella of information technology (IT), alongside Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. Computer Engineering plays a critical role in the development of systems that provide the foundation for IT, in terms of hardware as well as the firmware/system software that efficiently exploits the underlying hardware. Information technology would not exist without the efforts and expertise of computer engineers.

UMBC's strong graduate and research programs in Electrical Engineering emphasize optical communications, photonics, optoelectronic devices, and signal and image processing. Equally strong the research programs in Computer Science, specializing in the areas of computer networks, mobile and ubiquitous computing, intelligent agents and graphics. Building upon each program synergistically, the next logical step is to offer graduate degrees (M.S. and Ph.D.) in Computer Engineering. Many students employed locally by hardware design companies (e.g., Atmel, ChipExpress, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed-Martin, and ASIC Alliance Corporation) as well as federal agencies that are requiring an increasingly larger number of people to do Application Specific Integrated Circuit or ASIC design (e.g., NSA, NIST and NASA), have expressed interest in pursuing a graduate program in Computer Engineering. Several quality applicants (who were offered admission and aid) chose not to come to UMBC because they were interested in Computer Engineering, not EE or CS.

The new program will attract additional students as well as faculty who are in short supply, as evidenced by the large number of advertisements for open academic positions in Computer Engineering. UMBC has not had a great deal of success in attracting appropriate faculty members for the last several years because of the lack of a graduate level Computer Engineering program. The College believes that the proposed program will address these shortcomings and help build a community of new graduate students and faculty in a vital area, which will in turn have a synergistic impact on the existing (CS and EE) graduate programs. Without the proposed program, it would be very difficult for the College of Engineering to attract and retain quality faculty and students, to attain national rankings and recognition.

The success of this proposal would also allow undergraduates majoring in Computer Engineering to pursue a combined B.S./M.S. within 5 years. Such programs exist in other fields (in the College of Engineering as well as in other programs at UMBC), and are becoming increasingly attractive to prospective engineering students. UMBC is undoubtedly losing several quality undergraduates to other institutions (many out-of-state) simply because it does not confer graduate degrees in Computer Engineering.

The CSEE Visiting Committee, consisting of prominent industry and federal agency professionals (many of whom have had multiple successful startups), is strongly in favor of the establishment of a graduate program in Computer Engineering. Computer Engineering is an essential element of the Baltimore-Washington region's increasingly high-tech economy which has a high concentration of companies in the IT and allied areas (Ciena Corp., Corvis Corp., YAFO Networks, Gould Fiber Optics Inc., Iphotonics Inc., Verizon, AetherSystems Inc., AOL, etc.). Major federal agencies (e.g., NSA, DISA, NASA, NIH, and NIST) currently have significant thrusts in the fields of information security, processing, and related technologies and require skilled employees to meet their needs.

The Maryland Applied Information Technology Initiative (MAITI), created to educate a more technically skilled workforce, is infusing funding to eight Maryland institutions in order to significantly increase the number of information technology students in the pipeline, as well as the number of degree recipients in the next five years. UMBC along with UMCP (Project PI), UMB, JHU, Morgan State, Bowie State, Towson University and UMUC are the grant recipients. UMBC, in addition to state funding, also has commitments of federal and private resources in order to ensure delivery of the desired outcomes. As these commitments are not final, these resources are not reflected in the fiscal projections herein. By offering graduate degrees in Computer Engineering, UMBC will undoubtedly attract a number of graduate students who would have otherwise sought this specialized training in another state. Thus, UMBC's goal of increasing its programmatic offerings in the Computer Engineering arena is in accordance with the State strategy for strengthening Maryland's technology workforce.


[1] "Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs," Engineering Accreditation Commission, Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Baltimore, MD. Available online at
[2] "The Engineering Alphabet: An Overview of Engineering Disciplines," from the Web page of the American Association for Engineering Education
[3] See list of research technical committees of the IEEE Computer Society
[4] US News & World Report provides separate rankings of graduate schools in Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and Electrical Engineering. This is a strong indication that Computer Engineering is considered to be a legitimate field in its own right.
Computer Engineering rankings:
Computer Science rankings:
Electrical Engineering rankings:
[5] IEEE Transactions on Computers, Transactions on VLSI, Transactions on Computer Aided Design, Transactions on Parallel and Distributed Systems, Transactions on Mobility, the IEEE Journal of Solid State Circuits, Journal of VLSI signal processing.
[6] ACM Transactions on Computers
[7] Computer Engineering Conferences:
Application Specific Array Processors conference (ASAP)
Biannual Symposium on Computer Arithmetic Algorithms and Implementations (ARITH)
Design Automation Conference (DAC)
Fault Tolerant Computing Symposium (FTCS)
International Conference on Computer Aided Design (ICCAD)
International Conference on Computer Design (ICCD)
International Conference on Information and Computer Communications (INFOCOM)
International Conference on Mobile Computer Communications (MOBICOM)
International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA)
International Symposium on Defect and Yield
International Testing Conference (ITC)
VLSI Test Symposium (VTS)
[8] The following conferences have acceptance rates of 8-10 percent:
Design Automation Conference (DAC)
International Conference on Mobile Computer Communications (MOBICOM) International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA)
[9] "Dearth of Computer-Science Ph.D.s Heralds Shortage of Professors," The Chronicle of Higher Education. April 13, 2001, Information Technology, p. A43.