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EECS Presents 5-Year Masters Program to Students Today

By Sarah Y. Keightley
Associate News Editor

The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science will present the new EECS curriculum proposal to students and faculty in the department at a formal discussion today. The proposal includes a five-year Masters of Engineering program, which would eventually replace the bachelor's degree as the primary professional program offered by the department.

The M.Eng. degree would be the principal degree offered under the new plan. At the end of their junior year, all students in good academic standing would be automatically accepted into the M.Eng. program.

The department sent out invitations for the discussion to all of its students, faculty, and staff. Professor Paul L. Penfield Jr. ScD '60, head of the department and chairman of the Ad Hoc Curriculum Committee, will describe the proposal and then open up the floor for discussion. There will also be a presentation of "details that the faculty have not heard about yet," Penfield said.

Today's colloquium will mark the first presentation of the curriculum proposal to students. Penfield said the committee wants to get students' reaction to the plan. The discussion will serve as the EECS follow-up to the recent "Teaching in a Research University" colloquium.

Penfield said the department may include a paragraph describing the proposed curriculum in next year's Bulletin. The paragraph "does not give details; it states we are planning these changes without a commitment to follow through."

Acceptance of the proposal requires approval by the Committee on Curricula, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, and the Committee on Graduate School Policy, according to Penfield. So far the COC and the CUP have looked at the proposal, but "We can't go on until we get approval from the central administration," Penfield said.

Currently, the ad hoc committee is preparing a financial projection of how much the proposal will cost students and the Institute. The proposed program will create several new costs, including salaries for new staff.

The committee's "most hopeful" timetable would be for a faculty vote on the new M.Eng. degree next fall, Penfield said. Also, the committee wants to finalize the new curriculum so that it will be ready for "catalog copy" in January 1993 so that a description can be included in the course catalog for the following fall.

The plan is to phase students into the program gradually. If all goes according to the timetable, most members of the Class of 1997 who major in Course VI would enter the new program.

The new curriculum will involve changes in graduate admissions and graduate qualification procedures as well.

Penfield said he has asked the department faculty for their opinions of the proposal. "Almost all are enthusiastic about going ahead" with the plan, Penfield said. The committee is now focusing its attention on the problems faculty have found with the proposal. "When we do it, we want to do it right," he added.

Some professors objected to the fact that the M.Eng. degree requires less research experience than the current masters degree, Penfield said. "Some felt longer research experience is important," he said.

"There are a few bona fide reasons for research experience beyond the new master's," Penfield said. The M.Eng. can be completed in three semesters, which is considerably less time than it takes to earn a regular master's degree.

As part of the new program, the VI-A Internship Program will be expanded. "There are many similarities between the VI-A program and the new plan, which is somewhat modeled after VI-A. The purpose of the VI-A program is to give students industrial experience working as an engineer -- that would not change," said Kevin J. O'Toole '57, director of the program.

"It would be accurate to say the VI-A program served as a model on which the whole M.Eng. was based. The success of VI-A showed it was possible," Penfield said.

"What we're really doing is offering VI-A on campus," said Campbell L. Searle, professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

Because the proposal is "sufficiently radical in some ways," the timetable for implementation should be gradual, said Professor John V. Guttag. He said the program would hopefully begin with a few juniors next spring, who would be awarded M.Eng. degrees in the spring of 1995. "I'm hoping the class of '96 will be the last class under the old rules," he said.

Sarah Y. Keightley contributed to the reporting of this story.