Name: Synteche S. Ribeiro
Year: Class of 2012
Hometown: Warrenton, VA
Major: Electrical Engineering
Electrical Engineering at Hopkins
Being the homeschooled daughter of a physicist and an electrical engineer, academics (and engineering) were integrated heavily with my daily life. From the age of four I began to build small models from a Meccano set with my parents. I learned to wield a soldering iron at the age of seven, and early Saturday mornings were spent dismantling old equipment (from hair dryers and bread-makers, to computers and stereos) rather than watching cartoons. A RadioShack Electronic Projects kit was always somewhere on a dining room table eagerly awaiting our attention. My siblings and I learned a rudimentary understanding of analog-to-digital conversion by recording our piano pieces on a reel-to-reel tape-deck and converting them into digital sound files that could be played from a computer. Learning about electricity was quite hands-on. To illustrate the concept of current my dad had us run around the house, introducing ‘resistors’ into the ‘circuit’ by suddenly catching us and slowing us down. To keep us from sticking our fingers into the sockets, he had us gather around an outlet while he carefully inserted a small resistor. It instantly vaporized, of course, and we all gawked at the small smudge on the wall that was the only evidence of its existence. Engineering was very real to me, and I loved every minute of it.
I’m sure you already know that if you want to be an engineer, there will be significant amount of math involved. Electrical Engineering (EE) is one of the engineering fields that requires the most math. (In fact, if we taking just one more math course qualifies us to earn a math minor.) We also focus on material taught in a Physics II Electricity and Magnetism course. If these are not your strong suits, then EE is probably not the best major for you. Our courses are heavily math and physics based. You are required to take all of the calculus courses (Calculus I-III), Ordinary Differential Equations (where you learn all of the tricks you can do using calculus), Linear Algebra (tricks you can do using matrices), both levels of physics (Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism), and Introductory Chemistry I (I’m not exactly sure as to why we take this course, as I feel it has no impact on our education and preparation for other major-specific classes).
Some of the more interesting major-specific courses we take are Circuits (where you learn the theoretical aspect of assembling circuits), Fields, Matter, and Waves I & II (a more EE-focused form of Physics II), and Signals and Systems (learning how to mathematically analyze digital and analog signals of all kinds). These classes utilize and build upon skills learned in the math and science courses, so be sure you are well versed in the ways of triple integrals and magnetic fields!
The major is not all maths, of course, and many students use their AP math and science credits to place out of these classes so that they have room to take other things like Ancient Hieroglyphics, 19th British Literature, Cartooning, or Partial Differential Equations. We also need to take six humanities or social science courses, and the choices are endless, ranging from Medieval Europe to the History of Genetics (one of my favorite courses!) to Animal Behavior. Some of my absolute favorite classes in my major have been Digital System Fundamentals (a very logic based class, teaching the skills of binary logic and Boolean algebra, coding and decoding, and basic digital circuits), Ordinary Differential Equations, Signals and Systems, Circuits (even though this was a very difficult class for me, it is still possible to do well if you work hard enough), and Electronic Circuits Lab (hands-on circuit construction and analysis).
We are also linked closely with the Center for Language and Speech Processing (CLSP), a team of professors, graduate students, and research scientists (in Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mathematics, Psychology, and Cognitive Science) promoting education and research in the technology and science of speech and language. They research and study language modeling, natural language processing, neural auditory processing, language acquisition and optimality theory. They have a lot of seminars offered throughout the school year, and also have a research workshop each summer. There are also some very cool projects run by the faculty involved in CLSP dealing with the more medical aspect of things.
The Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department funds several student run projects. We receive credit for these courses, and have an advisor, but almost all of the instruction is self-run. We meet approximately once a week with our advisor to discuss what problems we are having with our designs, and submit a brief paper at the end of each semester detailing what we personally did. There is a team working on Nanogram RoboCup Soccer, a team working on building a self-driven self-guided vehicle, and a team working on building a solar-powered space elevator. I was actually one of the team leaders (until the end of my junior year) working on the space elevator, and got involved as a freshman. It is a lot of fun, and each semester presents new challenges. Many students also do research with the professors. (It is a very small dept so it’s easy to get to know professors and get involved.)
This is also a very male-dominated field, so be prepared for that. (For instance, it is not uncommon for me to be the only female student in a class.) It can get a bit competitive at times, but it’s all in good humor and nothing you can’t handle. I love my major because I really like making electronic devices and I also love math. It is pretty much the perfect combination.
I plan to take the Professional Engineering Exam this April, and work as an electrical engineer for a few years, I ultimately plan to go to graduate school for a Masters of Education, instead of a Masters of Engineering. I want to work in inner city high schools (such as Baltimore County Public Schools) and teach mathematics, sciences, and technical classes (like circuitry and machine drawing). I hope to use my engineering background to interest high schoolers in these subjects, and encourage students from impoverished or undereducated areas to attend college, or at least finish high school.
I hope this was helpful to you if you are considering Electrical Engineering, and I wish you the very best of luck!