New engineering subjects for future job skills

11 March 2019 | Education
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NUS Engineering Dean Prof Chua with some of his students

New students enrolling into NUS Engineering this year will acquire a raft of new skills from learning how to make robots to applying machine learning in data science.

Robotics, machine learning, Internet of Things and design thinking are among the exciting new subjects that will prepare students to cope with the wave of digitalisation that is sweeping all industries.

“It is essential for engineers to acquire multi-disciplinary skills because no one can afford to work in silo. The making of every product comprises an entire system which is multi-disciplinary in nature. At the systems level, trade-offs in design may have to be made due to various factors from costs to time to market. Engineers must appreciate these perspectives,” said Dean of NUS Engineering Professor Chua Kee Chaing.

While the nature of engineering jobs may change because digitalisation can lead to unexpected disruptions, the core skills, the ability to work across disciplines and the thinking about the end user requirements, remain the same. Bolstering the engineering content are the softer skills of critical thinking and the ability “to go in and use your hands, think of how to do things, all of which are very valuable”, he added.

NUS Engineering students will be able to learn right from the start how to “get their hands dirty” through work in the laboratory where they will have the opportunity to apply engineering concepts to processes like fermentation. Lower year students will be able to take new core modules focusing on subjects like systems thinking, design and prototyping, machine learning, computing, modelling and simulation and materials. These can equip them with versatile skills and a systems mindset for holistic problem-solving.

These modules will form a common engineering core which, starting from AY2019/2020, the 1,500 new undergraduates entering NUS Engineering every year will take.

It is essential for engineers to acquire multi-disciplinary skills because no one can afford to work in silo. The making of every product comprises an entire system which is multi-disciplinary in nature. At the systems level, trade-offs in design may have to be made due to various factors from costs to time to market. Engineers must appreciate these perspectives.

The faculty also introduced three new engineering specialisations — Digitalisation in Urban Infrastructure, Internet of Things and Robotics — available to students in their third and fourth years. A new minor — Data Engineering — will also be available for students to take up.

Under the Digitalisation in Urban Infrastructure specialisation, students will learn more about urban mobility in line with the rise of autonomous driverless transport systems. Among other subjects, they will also have the chance to master data modelling and analytics, model based systems engineering and hydroinformatics.

The world of tomorrow will have a multitude of sensors, all connected together by the Internet of Things — a network of interactive devices, sensory, actuation and computing nodes. Thus, the specialisation in Internet of Things will offer students the chance to take technical electives on topics such as wireless/sensor networks, embedded hardware and software design.

Robotics is a subject that will impact industrial automation, manufacturing and other fields, said Prof Chua. Students taking on the Robotics specialisation will hence learn about robotics system design and will be able to choose among topics like robot mechanics, intelligent medical robots and others as their technical electives.

Finally, the new minor in Data Engineering will enable students to learn topics including data engineering principles and machine learning. This will help them to understand different ways of processing data so as to mine valuable business insights.

Supporting the new modules and specialisations are the Engineering Principles and Practice modules, introduced two years ago which allow first year students to experience engineering up close.

To more quickly contextualise the topics, the lecturers for these modules use different methods of teaching, making the lessons very experiential with a lot of laboratory work. “They also teach in smaller classes, and we introduced thematic teaching where professors come together to plan a new class and work with groups of students. There we can introduce concepts and experimentation,” elaborated Prof Chua.

NUS Chemical Engineering Year 2 student Anushka Prasanna Ogale recalled becoming an “alcohol maker”, putting to test engineering principles used in fermentation and brewing a fruit alcohol using pineapple in her first year of school. The exercise was stimulating and that it gave her a better appreciation of what chemical engineering is like, she shared.

By Grace Chng, a veteran tech writer