Of course EE is not about solving glorified math problems. But the EE educational system is set up in such a manner.
Most of an EE student's GPA consists of the ability to solve problems on paper for mid-term and final exams. There are laboratory sessions, but the objective all too often is to just plow through the lab exercises to earn a grade, and any learning that takes place is all too likely to be accidental. The only practical experience all too often doesn't happen until the SENIOR project, and that's just ONE class. Being able to design and build electronic devices is just a small part of the GPA. The end result is too many technically illiterate EE graduates. If you have complained about interviewing or (worse) working with EEs who looked fine on paper and could solve any textbook problem but couldn't even solder two wires together (much less design and build something to actually work right), now you know how they became that way.
I read that EE education had more emphasis on practical experience until about the 1950s and that there are now generations of EE professors and department heads who couldn't engineer a circuit if their lives depended on it. I read that the demands from the space program caused the change to almost all theory and very little practical experience. Why?
I've also heard industry and academia pass the buck on training EEs to be productive on the job. Industry says that academia is responsible, but academia says its job is to just teach the basics and that industry is responsible for training EEs to be productive on the job. I get the impression that EE departments are stuck in the 1950s and1960s, when the average person was much more likely to have built a crystal radio. I say that since industry and academia keep passing the buck (like Ford and Firestone on the Ford Explorer tire problems), it's really the EE student's job to get training. And this training can only come from practical experience: co-ops, internships, HOBBIES (like amateur radio, audio, electronics, etc.), competitions, etc. This practical experience is FAR MORE important than GPA. In fact, if your GPA is ahead of the know-how it's supposed to convey, you're up a creek. You're just a more intellectually advanced version of the functionally illiterate high school graduate.
If I were the head of an EE department, I would offer something that none (as far as I know) currently provide: An unpressured introduction to PRACTICAL electronics for first-semester freshmen. This would be a non-credit or pass-fail class that consists of building simple projects. Projects would include things like an electromagnetic field monitor, car battery monitor, crystal radio, and lie detector. (There are books with projects like these.) There would be NO required problem sets, exams, or lab reports. Students would get a chance to work with ICs, resistors, capacitors, transistors, and other components and put them together to form a device that works. This would help motivate students, improve retention rates, and encourage students to pursue the practical side of EE. The students who don't get hooked on EE as a result of this class would know that the time to leave EE is now, BEFORE they flunk out, and BEFORE they become miserable, underperforming EEs. Thus, the students for whom EE is not a calling can move on to something else faster instead of subjecting themselves to misery. The students who remain (which I suspect would be a majority) will be better EE students AND better EEs. The EE department won't have to waste as much time and resources on marginal students, and employers would get more productive EEs in the end.
So why don't EE departments offer this non-credit or pass-fail practical introductory course?
Jason Hsu, AG4DG usenet AAAAATTTTT jasonhsu.com