George Fox University: Teaching PCB Design to EE Students


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We’ve all heard the stories about engineering students entering our industry with no idea how to design PCBs. It’s not their fault; most students aren’t exposed to PCB design in their electrical engineering curriculum. But George Fox University (GFU) is an exception to the rule.

Gary Spivey is director of engineering projects at this Christian college in the Pacific Northwest, and his students learn to design and fabricate a PCB while also giving back to the community. Not surprisingly, these graduates get snapped up quickly. In this wide-ranging interview, Spivey discusses GFU’s engineering curriculum, their cutting-edge lab facilities, and the need to teach students to think critically.

Andy Shaughnessy: What is your background and how did you end up working at George Fox University?

Gary Spivey: I was an EE major at the University of Arizona in '88, and I went to work for the National Security Agency, which I enjoyed very much. While there, I did a three-year stint in Scotland, and upon return, went back to grad school at the University of Maryland at College Park.

I received my master’s and was working on my Ph.D.; I had everything done except for that little essay. Then, I took my family back to Arizona. I got a job in Tucson with a defense contractor and finished my Ph.D. from there. About that time, I thought, "Well, what now?” I was browsing the web one day and stumbled upon GFU, a small Christian school in the Northwest that I didn't know anything about; I wasn’t even looking for a job as a teacher. I noticed that they had an engineering program and were looking for someone, and upon a more detailed look, realized that they were looking for me. My major and minor and the company I was working for were the top three things they wanted. I let it sit for a year, and the position was still open. So, we decided to come up here and help start this engineering program. That was in 2003 when we had our first group of seniors. It had been a three-year program before that.

There were four engineering faculty at that point, including myself, and then the program got accredited with about 40–50 students; now, there are over 300 students and approximately 15 faculty. We began with concentrations in mechanical and electrical engineering, and now we also have computer, civil, and biomedical concentrations.

Nolan Johnson: Can you tell us more about your engineering program?

Spivey: Students are initiated into the program through our engineering principles courses. There is a two-semester sequence in the first year where students have a significant amount of hands-on education. In the fall, they are trained in machine shop equipment and solid modeling, and use these skills to design and manufacture a small air engine. In the spring, they learn basic electronics and programming, and use those skills to create and build an Arduino-controlled solution for a constrained theme (e.g., a new kitchen appliance or something to improve the dorm room). The theme changes each year.

Sophomore year is fairly standard and rigorous as students learn the fundamental skills in their concentration. In their junior year, students participate in our Servant Engineering Program. The program began in 2010 and allows every junior to participate in a service learning engineering project.

To read this entire interview, which appeared in the March 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.

To learn more about George Fox University's Engineering program click here.

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