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Tech sector helping Sonoma State engineering program reach next phase

  • Senior Eric Waugh works on a device to collect data from devices like weather machine in the SSU engineering department on Wednesday, February 12, 2014. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

There are times when Eric Waugh has to explain to his Sonoma State University peers that he really is an engineering student.

Tucked away on the second floor of the administration building, Sonoma State's small, 10-year-old undergraduate engineering program remains an enigma to many people, on campus and off. The department offers three avenues of study — a minor and bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's in computer and engineering science.

"People see this as being a liberal arts school. They don't even give it a second thought that there's engineering here," said Waugh, 23, an electrical engineering major expected to graduate this summer.

But Saeid Rahimi, the program's biggest champion and dean emeritus, is out to change that. And he's once again turning to local tech industry heavyweights, whose financial contributions were instrumental in bringing both master's and bachelor's engineering programs to the North Bay campus.

Late last month, the university's engineering department convened the first meeting of the Engineering Industry Advisory Board, a panel made up of local tech professionals and science and engineering faculty. The panel's goal is to strengthen mutually beneficial ties between industry and the university's engineering program and students.

The group — whose representatives include professionals with Agilent, Micro-Vu and Cyan Intelenex — will serve as a springboard promoting the engineering school to prospective students; creating more internship opportunities; and fostering greater research collaboration and technology transfer between local industry and the school.

Other goals include enhancing continued education at the graduate level for locally employed technology professionals. There's even talk of creating a North Bay high-tech hub and think tank that would serve as an incubator for local innovation.

In essence, the goal is to push Sonoma State's engineering program to the next phase, one that will benefit both students and the region's high-tech industry.

"This department really is in a startup mode," Waugh said. "I think we need to show that electrical engineering is successful first, and we need to graduate more students and we need to ensure that they're working in the area, in Sonoma, Marin and Napa."

Rahimi said he views the local tech industry as the engineering department's "customers" and that it's important to gauge their needs.


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