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As colleges and universities continue to adapt to remote and virtual learning, the IPC Education Foundation has also adapted to support student members and 38 IPC student chapters across the U.S. Students are dealing with challenges in their classrooms but are also greatly affected by challenges in their extracurricular organizations. Engineering student competitions especially include team-based projects, often building robotic, electrical, and mechanical devices. With the increase in distance learning, the IPCEF has had to adapt its initiatives for student chapters.
The IPC student chapter program provides benefits under the pillars of scholarships, education, industry connections, and projects. Fortunately, the IPCEF was able to conduct its annual scholarship program and has excellent online education. The industry connection and project portions, however, posed a challenge. In due time, students will once again be able to attend in-person events with electronics companies and professionals, such as facility tours and speaking events on campus. For the time being, those connections can be fostered virtually with the increase in the use of video calling (we continue to encourage industry support ). Projects, however, are more difficult to manage for an industry that relies so heavily on physical products.
The IPCEF had hopes of releasing an industry challenge in partnership with an IPC member company, promoting IPC Design’s  international design competition to chapters, and intended to launch a chapter-based electronics design competition at the start of the fall 2020 semester. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and the subsequent tabling of initiatives, neither the industry challenge nor the IPC Design competition will start in 2020, and 2021 is still to be determined. On the bright side, there are modified plans on the horizon to involve students and professionals.
Beyond this academic year, the IPCEF hopes to conduct four annual competitions for its student chapters, including (1) an industry challenge in partnership with IPC member companies, (2) a solder quality competition primarily for chapters at community colleges, (3) an electronics design competition primarily for chapters at universities, and (4) a research competition primarily for graduate student members. We have launched modified versions of competitions 3 and 4—the electronics design competition and the research competition. Each competition will need continued support and modifications in the coming months and years, and we’re actively seeking partners !
To gain ideas, information, and knowledge about the interests of the student chapters, the IPCEF is conducting a proposal competition for student chapters, starting in November and ending in December. Each student chapter may submit up to one proposal that the IPCEF will use as guidance for launching the 2021 electronics design competition. This year’s competition will be shorter and smaller in scale than what the IPCEF hopes to launch in August 2021, with winners determined no later than April 2022, just before the conclusion of the 2021–2022 academic year.
We are also considering virtual competitions. If the students can collaborate virtually and build individually and/or distanced, the IPCEF supports their efforts. Furthermore, if student chapters can effectively participate in a smaller-scale competition this spring, the groundwork for a larger competition will be set up.
The IPCEF expects the most participation in the electronics design competition, and the competitions aimed at community college students and graduate students are also in full swing. The IPCEF has worked with its Chapter Advisor Council on creating these initiatives and has two expert soldering instructors on this committee. As the instructors can attest, equipment, safety, and video constraints make teaching soldering via Zoom, WebEx, or any of the other video platforms difficult. To run a competition in this arena would be very difficult. Heeding the advice of the experts, the IPCEF aims to launch the soldering competition in fall 2021.
Fortunately, presenting research is one thing that can be done in the current environment.
On November 19, 2020, in partnership with the Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE) at the University of Maryland, SMTA, and iMAPS, the IPC student chapter conducted a virtual elevator pitch competition. The collaborating organizations collected abstracts and chose 12 student presenters to compete in the live competition. Each student was given five minutes to present their research while sharing their video and presentation slides. IPC had students from the University of Maryland and Auburn University represented.
The panel of judges consisted of Patrick Crawford, manager of design standards for IPC; Eric Folk, manager of MMIC and RFIC design at Northrop Grumman Corporation; Lauren Boteler, thermal/packaging technical lead at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory; and Nick Leonardi of EBD Experts and Smart Microsystems. This event provides an excellent framework and validated model for the IPCEF’s future competition. Such future initiatives will relate to graduate student research, with hopes of incorporating more students, chapters, and industry partners. While challenges and obstacles continue, it is important to find opportunities within the challenges.
The IPCEF will continue to provide scholarships, industry-standard education, industry connections, and access to hands-on competitions, especially with the support of industry experts and professionals. We are building the next generation of future leaders in the electronics industry, but those students need awareness and access to the industry.
The IPCEF staff, however, can only do so much. We are seeking individuals to host virtual information sessions, facility tours, provide mentorship and guidance, assist with projects, and showcase opportunities in the electronics industry. The students are energetic and full of optimism, ready to showcase their abilities by pursuing continued education and building a repertoire of projects. These students are ready to join the industry, and connecting them to real-world experiences will move the needle, which is the hope of the IPCEF.
Aaron Birney is the IPC education program manager.