January 2015

Featured Article

ME for EEs - Where are the ME Courses in the EE Curriculum?

By Dennis Silage, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Temple University

An unfortunate premise is that undergraduate EE programs seem to be unable to accommodate within their curricula substantive ME courses. Alternatively, a single course obliquely called ME for EEs, a counter to the EE for MEs course usually required in the ME program, may be necessary in the EE program.

The EE discipline was once embellished with a significant number of ME courses suitable for between-the-world-wars technical training [1]. Even as late as the 1960s EE students were required to take ME courses in statics, dynamics, materials and thermodynamics [2]. However, the rapid development of digital logic integrated circuits and the microprocessor in the 1970s shifted the extent of the EE curriculum away from these ME courses.

Accelerating the shift were new topics such as microelectronics, probability and statistics, digital signal and image processing and digital communications and control. The result is that many EE curricula today do not feature any required courses in ME.

While the typical EE curriculum could include as many as three Engineering elective courses, the advising suggestion that may predominate is to choose only courses from the EE discipline. This is especially prevalent when preparatory courses are considered within the ME program. Although the prerequisites for an initial ME course in statics would be satisfied, an interdisciplinary course of study in ME could utilize all the remaining Engineering electives and may not be reasonable. Furthermore, although substantive, a single course in statics does not provide any breath of understanding of the ME discipline.       

The relationship of the subdisciplines of EE and ME in electromechanics and energy and power in course work must go beyond the proverbial pressure is voltage, flow is current analogy. Since ME students, generally, are still required to take a single EE for MEs course and laboratory, often provided by an electrical systems service course from the ECE department, the analogy can be infused into ME courses quite naturally.

The typical EE for MEs course is supported by a comprehensive text with topics that span resistive and reactive electric circuits, AC power, semiconductor and power electronics, electric machines, digital logic and instrumentation [3]. The usually corequisite laboratory provides an experience garnered from several EE laboratories for the ME student.

Unfortunately, the reverse, the ME for EEs course in the EE curriculum, is not endemic and infusing mechanics into such EE courses as electromechnical systems and control theory remains challenging. Although some EE programs have recognized this curricular deficit and have engaged their ME department colleagues to provide a service course, such a course has been only sporadically provided and often not required. Consider this then as a clarion call for a widespread requisite course in mechanical systems for EE students.

The suggested ME for EEs course should include modules on statics, dynamics, strength of materials and an introduction to thermodynamics and fluid mechanics. The breath of the material here is certainly no more than that provided by the EE for MEs course. However, selection of a suitable course text is somewhat problematic and is certainly a reflection of the scarcity of the course offering in EE programs.

Some of the available texts that span the material are intended for an introductory course for ME students in their first or second year and have sections on the profession, the design process, standards and technical communication. These texts also often have a minimal requirement for prerequisite calculus and physics. Other available texts are seemingly more reasonable [4][5].

The suggested ME for EEs course might then be offered in the third year with prerequisites of calculus and physics and utilize what-if analyses in Matlab® and mechanical models in SimMechanicsTM for projects. This ME for EEs offering then would provide support for later courses in electromechanical and energy conversion systems. 

Such a course in mechanical systems without a laboratory has been developed, presented, and assessed by direct and indirect methods. The course was enthusiastically endorsed by the Industrial Advisory Committee and certainly contributes to the continuous improvement of the EE program. The course syllabus considers the following modules:

Tensile, compressive and shear force, stress, strain, Hooke’s law, modulus of rigidity, tensile testing, proof stress

Center of gravity, equilibrium, resolution of forces, supported beams

Joints and sections, bending moment, shearing force, uniformly distributed loads

Centroids, first and second moments of simple and regular sections, bending of beams, torque, twisting of shafts

Linear and angular velocity and acceleration, linear momentum and impulse, centripetal acceleration, moment of inertia

Coefficient of friction, friction of an inclined plane, simple harmonic motion, simple and compound pendulum

Torsional vibrations, force ratio, pulleys, screw-jacks, gear trains, levers

Specific heat capacity, conduction, convection, radiation

Thermal expansion, coefficient of linear, superficial and volumetric expansion

Hydrostatics, fluid, atmospheric and Archimedes principle, absolute and gauge pressure, buoyancy 

Fluid flow, flowmeters, anemometer, equation of continuity, flow nozzle, turbine, Bernouli’s equation

Thermocouples, pyrometers, resistance and bi-metallic thermometers

Undergraduate EE students without such an ME for EEs course remain at a distinct disadvantage in focused areas of employment such as electromechanical systems and energy and power. Research in Engineering education has also identified perhaps the key barrier to interdisciplinary practice [6]. Students apparently lack the ability to provide the salient connections between and understanding of the contributions of various disciplines. This should be a further concern to EE educators and would be ameliorated by the adoption of an ME for EEs course.

  1. Ernst Weber and Frederik Nebeker. Evolution of Electrical Engineering: A Personal Perspective, IEEE Press, 1994.

  1. John D. Ryder and Donald G. Fink. Engineers and Electrons: A Century of Electrical Progress, IEEE Press, 1993.

  1. Giorgio Rizzoni. Principles and Applications of Electrical Engineering, McGraw-Hill, 2007.
  2. Jonathon Wickert. An Introduction to Mechanical Engineering, Cengage Learning, 2013.
  3. John Bird and Carl Ross. Mechanical Engineering Principles, Routledge, 2012.
  4. David M. Richter and Marie Paretti. “Identifying Barriers to and Outcomes of Interdisciplinarity in the Engineering Classroom”, European Journal of Engineering Education, 34:29-45, 2009.


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