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The Access Line
Interview with S.K. Ramesh on CSUN's Master's Degree in Assistive Technology Engineering
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If you have a bachelor degree in engineering, computer science, software design/development or a related discipline and want to create innovative, life-changing assistive technology devices for the aging and disabled, then CSUN’s new Masters degree in Assistive Technology Engineering (ATE) – launched this Fall - is the right program for you. Pegged as a program that employs a multidisciplinary approach to assistive technology product design and development, Dean S.K. Ramesh says that it will prepare graduates to apply their assistive technology acumen to a variety of environments and in the process, multiply career options.
Axel Leblois, Executive Director, G3ict interviews Mr S.K. Ramesh, Dean, College of Engineering and Computer Science and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, CSUN on the launch of the Masters degree in Assistive Technology Engineering.
Axel Leblois (A.L.): What prompted you to launch the M.S. in Assistive Technology Engineering?
S.K. Ramesh (S.K.R): Engineering is fundamental to humanity. As engineers, we are constantly challenged to design and build products that help improve the quality of life. Given the rapid pace of change in our disciplines, the social context of engineering practice is changing with curricula evolving to meet workforce needs.
A.L.: The question is how can we make engineering programs more outward-focused and structure them as entrepreneurial engines of innovations?
S.K.R.: We believe that Assistive Technology Engineering is one of those areas that address that question. For starters, the cohort of the aging population in the US is increasing (presently 44.5 million are over the age of 75) and projected to reach 22% of the population by 2030. Consequently, the need for products and devices to sustain and improve the quality of life for our aging population is increasing.
An interdisciplinary Masters degree in Assistive Technology Engineering enables graduates to design these products with the perspective of the end user in mind. Our college of engineering and computer science is well known for its accredited programs that offer a blend of theory and hands-on learning and was ranked by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) for having the fastest growing undergraduate programs in the nation in 2010: http://www.prism-magazine.org/mar10/databytes.cfm
Furthermore, at CSUN we have a renowned Center on Disabilities that provides services to students, and education and training to professionals in the field. The Center hosts an international conference on disabilities that brings together practitioners, the end users and researchers (with more than 4,000 attendees at the 26th edition last year). Our new program includes two tracks – one focused on engineering (the ATE program) and another focused on human services (the ATHS program).
S.K. Ramesh, Dean, College of Engineering and Computer Science, CSUN
A.L.: Is this the first program of its kind?
S.K.R.: As far as we know, yes. There are several certificate programs in assistive technology, but to our knowledge this would be the first Masters degree in the area with tracks in Engineering and Human Services.
A.L.: Which elements will be central to its curriculum?
S.K.R.: With our holistic approach to the design of the program, we have a common set of core classes for students in both tracks that address functional biology, human characteristics, and current and emerging topics in assistive technology.
Specific curricula in the engineering track have been designed emphasizing assistive technology and covering biomechanics and motor control, instrumentation, robotics, software development, product design and development and project management. In addition we have developed a course on alternative and augmentative communications which is of great interest in this field.
The ATE degree program includes 10 courses (3 units each) and a culminating directed comprehensive studies course (3 units), for a total of 33 units. Research & development components are embedded in a series of interdisciplinary seminars (2 units), internship (1 unit), and the directed comprehensive studies course (3 units), for a total of 6 units. It is a two-year program, which is offered in cohort mode. It has been recognized as a Professional Science Master’s degree by the Council of Graduate Schools.
A.L.: Which areas of employment would be likely for future graduates?
S.K.R.: Graduates from the ATE Program are expected to earn jobs or careers in fields such as biomedical engineering, assistive technology, medical equipment design, medical software development, and medical and therapeutic instruments manufacturing. Because the program employs a multidisciplinary approach to assistive technology product design and development – including exposure to assistive technology assessment, advocacy and counseling – it also multiplies the career options open to graduates.
The employment trend in the State of California in these fields is projected to increase by 81% over a 10-year period from 2008-2018. The California Employment Development Department, Labor Market Information Division estimates 320 annual job openings in Southern California, in these fields based on the projected data over 2008-2018. These employment trends are mirrored nationally as well in the data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As a graduate, you will enjoy significant professional competitive advantages that stem from being better prepared to not only create appropriate and effective products but also interact with those who assess and counsel clients and make assistive technology recommendations and decisions.
The ATE program is also linked to the university’s master’s program in Assistive Technology and Human Services. A student in the Assistive Technology Engineering program will benefit from an exceptional opportunity to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the needs of end-users as well as the wide variety of environments in which assistive technology devices must function.
A.L.: What profile of applicants do you expect or recommend?
S.K.R.: We are seeking students with bachelor’s degrees in engineering or science with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 and with an interest and passion in working at the intersection of these emerging disciplines. Depending on their background, some of the students will need to complete a few pre-requisites to ensure that they are on the same page as the other students in the cohort.
A.L.: Are assistive technology manufacturers and IT companies supportive of your initiative?
S.K.R.: Very much. The research and internship experiences that are embedded in the curriculum are designed to provide the "cross-training" in business, communications, and regulatory affairs to succeed in the workplace. The curriculum was developed in concert with employers and is designed to dovetail into present and future professional career opportunities. Internship placement will be arranged by the program director with local or regional AT-related industries and with the CSUN Center on Disabilities and the Brown Center of Achievement.
For those students already working in a related field or those who might identify a local position, an employer-based internship may be arranged. A minimum requirement of 45 hours of field-based experience over 15 weeks of the term is required for completion of the internship. The program director will hold regular monthly meetings to advice and track students’ progress throughout the internship.
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