From chalkboards to smartboards and notebooks to tablets, schools are rapidly evolving to support 21st century learning styles. Learn more about engineering education trends and how they affect solutions made by architects and engineers.

Mike Nelson PE

Q: How has school lighting changed to accommodate technology and support learning?

Lighting needs to be flexible. The standard light switch that turns all the lights on/off has been replaced with multiple switches that have programmed lighting scenes. Current technology allows us to dim any part of the classroom with just the push of a button, which can come in handy when using screens (laptops, e-readers, etc.).

Natural daylight is also a big factor in student productivity, and collaboration between architectural and lighting design professionals is essential to creating a space that is conducive to learning. Daylight harvesting (artificial lighting that automatically dims based on the amount of natural light) has become common to maintain a consistent level of light while reducing energy consumption.

Fun Fact: Growing up working for a family business fixing electronics and appliances is what led Mike to become an electrical engineer. Figuring out why something doesn’t work and attempting to fix it has always been something he’s enjoyed.

Associate Principal + Practice Group Leader, Mike Nelson PE works out of ISG’s Mankato, Minnesota, office, and provides electrical engineering solutions to education clients across the Midwest.


Eric Rothwell

Q: What new audio/visual (AV) and low-voltage trends are being incorporated to support 21st century design?

Although still in the upward swing of technological development with things like latency, bandwidth, and compression being debated, there is an increasing push toward integrating AV and IT services. No longer are the days of maintaining separate cabling infrastructures for each application, as IT, audio, and video are learning to live and play together on the same network.

Smart projection is nothing new, but the added demands of multi-touch sensing and collaborative presentations bouncing from one presenter to another are ushering in the next evolution of display technology. Laser light sources are eliminating the need for costly lamp maintenance and direct-view, fine-pitch, touch LED video wall panels are popping up in more places as prices fall and options rise. Next step: Skynet.

Lastly, the idea of every student having a connected device is becoming a rest stop on the side of the highway as educators now have to plan for a 2:1 and even 3:1 device to student ratio. The need to support “bring your own device” (BYOD) with some students now expecting support for their handheld device, tablet, and laptop in today’s connected and collaborative classroom is here.

Fun Fact: One of Eric’s top Strengthsfinder strengths is strategic, which makes sense since he is constantly devising integrated solutions for IT/telecommunications, AV, and security systems. This Wisconsin native used to play football for the Iowa Hawkeyes and has competed nationally in three different sports. He believes winning is as much strategy and desire as it is ability.

You can find Electrical Engineer Eric Rothwell seeking out new challenges and working hard to help ISG set itself apart from the competition with innovative solutions from ISG’s Des Moines, Iowa, office.


Chris DeWaal PE

Q: How has education changed since you were in school, and how do you see that reflected in the engineering for current education partners?

My high school had one computer lab with about a half dozen machines that were barely used. After all, those of us who were destined for careers in engineering, the sciences, and mathematics could add, subtract, multiply, divide, and often perform more complicated functions on paper and in our heads quicker than the desktop units in that lab could.

Now we live in a world of smartphones, laptops, and tablets, which allow lesson plans to be adjusted and customized to the students’ individual needs much more easily. Lights are controlled automatically. Heating and air conditioning utilize variable frequency drives and computerized control systems. Even vending machines and cafeteria equipment have computer “brains” that monitor quantities, temperatures, and payment for their contents.

What does all of this mean to the electrical engineering that goes into the design of these buildings?  All of those devices have control interfaces that have to be integrated with each other. New devices with variable frequency drives, battery chargers, and computers create noise in the form of harmonics, switching transients, and reflected waves that all have to be dealt with in our electrical power designs. The good news is that we have a lot more tools at our disposal to deal with these noisemakers. If you hear your electrical engineering staff talk about surge protective devices (SPDs), oversized neutrals, chokes, isolation transformers, and drive cables, they are talking about the tools available to help us keep those sine waves smooth (quiet).

Fun Fact: Speaking of when Chris was in high school, that’s also when had his first date with his wife. They went to see “Dirty Dancing,” and he remembers how nervous he was when he tried the old yawn/arm around the shoulder trick and ended up giving her an elbow to the temple. While the technological and engineering changes he has seen have been nothing short of miraculous, he hopes the little miracles that come from personal interaction never go away.

When Associate Principal + Practice Group Leader Chris DeWaal isn’t at ISG’s Green Bay, Wisconsin, office, he spends a lot of time training his dachshund puppy.


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Sam Boeck

Meet Sam Boeck

Sam leads talent engagement at ISG, focusing on providing innovative and strategic direction for talent engagement initiatives, including professional development, culture, and recruitment. Frankly put, Sam embodies ISG’s culture and...