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Getting to Know Computer Engineering at UNT With Dr. Akl

By Christina Dowers

Computer engineering is considered to be a fairly new field as far as the world of professions goes. Its breakthrough began about 20 years ago when technology came into the picture. The profession can best be described as a hybrid role where electrical engineering and computer science come together.

“Right now, computer engineering is very much in demand, and the trend will continue to go up over the next several years” - Dr. Robert Akl

Electrical engineering deals with the hardware design of technology, and computer science deals with the design of the software for the technology. Computer engineering deals with how these two areas interact with each other. Crossed between computer science and computer engineering is software engineering. This discipline deals with looking at software as a product and how to start from specification to implementation. It deals with having the knowledge of the software cycle. Software engineers must know how to lead a team through these cycles. Any type of software from software on an I-phone to Microsoft Word and Excel would be examples of software products these engineers work on. Even the design of a video game goes through software cycles.

Computer Engineering as a Profession

“Right now, computer engineering is very much in demand, and the trend will continue to go up over the next several years,” Robert Akl, computer engineering professor at the University of North Texas, says.

Akl contributes the rise in the profession to the evolution of technology in the past 20 years. Some examples of job titles that computer engineers find themselves in are systems engineer, hardware engineer, software engineer and radio frequency engineer. Akl says that the title also depends on the company and product being used. It also depends on the skills required for the position. He says that many UNT electrical engineering students go on to work for major companies like Google, Microsoft and Samsung.

What Does it Take to be a Successful Computer Engineer?

To be successful in the professional world as a computer engineer, Akl says it takes a desire to always want to improve existing conditions and want to make products more efficient. It also takes the drive to repair and improve technology.

“Computer engineering is all about taking the status quo and coming up with a better version,” Akl said.

UNT offers career resources to computer engineering students through the university’s Career Center and Internships and Cooperative Education program. Through the co-op program, students can get academic credit for the time they work in the company, and sometimes they end up working permanently at the company after they graduate. The university also offers various job fairs throughout the year. The College of Engineering also has its own co-op office and job fairs. The college and the electrical engineering department have advisory boards. The board members of the department’s board come to the university to meet with the department once a semester to provide advice and insight. The department is always working with the department to see what the companies are looking for in students.

The Computer Engineering Programs at UNT

Akl says that the computer engineering program at UNT has a modern and up-to-date curriculum. Third and fourth year undergraduate students get to see more of the hardware and software aspect of the discipline. The curriculum is not just theoretical; students look at the ethical issues of engineering, and the social implications. Upon graduation, students usually either pursue graduate degrees or go into the workforce.

UNT offers a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in computer engineering. UNT also offers a Ph.D. in computer science and engineering. As part of the undergraduate requirement, students must take a capstone course, which involves senior design one and two. This course applies the knowledge they have learned in their classes to an actual project. Students are also encouraged to be involved in research projects throughout their undergraduate career. This provides them the opportunity to work with other faculty members and students. There are several labs available in the modern and state of the art building that the College of Engineering is in, Discovery Park. For the students who are interested in going to grad school, this gives them an edge because it helps to already have a paper published and finished project.

Success as a Computer Engineering Student

In order to be successful in the computer engineering program at UNT, Akl says that students should take more math classes, such as Pre-AP courses and/or college credit classes, in high school before coming into the program. He also says that students should be interested n both the hardware and software aspects of computers. Once in the program, Akl says that it does not matter if a student concentrates on academics instead of an internship or vice versa. The high GPA or experience will give them an equal edge in the workforce, though having both is definitely an asset.

Computer engineering graduates may decide to pursue a master’s degree if a. they are interested in getting a doctorate to become a professor and/or b. they want to enter the workforce in a higher position. Akl says that electrical engineers with a master’s degree earn about $15,000 more than someone with a bachelor’s degree.

About Dr. Akl

Akl holds a Doctor of Science, Master of Science and Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Washington State University in St. Louis. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science from WSU. He worked in industry for two years. For one of the years,

"[To be successful in the program] take more math classes, such as Pre-AP courses and/or college credit classes, in high school" - Dr. Akl
he worked at a company named Comspace Corporation where he was a systems engineer. He designed and simulated the coding and decoding of push-to-talk phones. He worked as an assistant professor for one semester at University of New Orleans in the electrical engineering department where he taught computer engineering courses. In 2002, he came to UNT.

His research emphasis has always included wireless communications. This includes the study of code division multiple access, which is how to access cellular channels in 2G technology, and wide-band code division multiple access, which is how to access cellular channels in 3G technology. This research also includes investigating load balancing in WiFi networks, and routing and congestion in wireless networks.

In the spring, Akl teaches an undergraduate class in communications systems, and an undergraduate and graduate class in wireless communications. In the fall, he teaches an undergraduate class in signals and systems, and a graduate class in censor networks.

For more information about the Computer Engineering program at UNT or computer engineering in general, contact Robert Akl at [email protected] or at 940-565-2804.


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