ESE

Throughout the course, students study the physics of a circuit, learn how to represent it through simple mathematical models and then use this information to optimize circuit metrics, such as speed and energy efficiency.

Photo: Joy Lee

Classes at Penn can be hard, but there is one that consistently takes the top spot: Electrical and Systems Engineering 370. 

The course, called  "Circuit-Level Modeling," is the hardest class at Penn and has averaged a 3.89 out of 4.00 in difficulty, according to Penn Course Review data, which includes data up to April 2016. The course is required for those majoring in computer engineering, a "rite of passage" for those in the major, said 2017 Engineering graduate Matthew Howard.

But there are also some students outside the computer engineering department who choose to take the course voluntarily. 

Engineering junior Dmitry Shatalin, who is a double-major in math and electrical engineering, is one example. Shatalin concentrates in circuits and computer engineering, which ESE 370 is relevant for. He said most people in electrical engineering with a different concentration do not know the class exists, and those who do generally try and stay away from it.

When Shatalin learned about the class, however, he saw an opportunity he could not miss.

“I first learned about it when I saw it in the DP magazine [about] the 30 hardest classes at Penn,” Shatalin said, which is when he decided that “there’s no way I’m not taking it.”

The material of ESE 370 is part of what makes the class so difficult. Throughout the course, students study the physics of a circuit, learn how to represent it through simple mathematical models and use this information to optimize circuit metrics, such as speed and energy efficiency.

Engineering senior Max Li is an electrical engineering major who decided against taking the course. His concentration is in information and decision systems, so he found ESE 370 too time-intensive to take. But he added that the majority of his friends in electrical engineering actually choose to take the course because of its focus in digital electronics. 

“I’m not sure if it was enjoyable in the time they were actually in the course,” Li said, “but when they were outside of it, they found it was worth the time.”

Another reason electrical engineering majors might opt to take this course is that they are likely more prepared for it. According to Wharton and Engineering senior Martin Deng, who also serves as a teaching assistant for ESE 370, electrical engineers have an advantage over computer engineers because they have more exposure to physics-based math. 

For computer engineers, who make up the majority of the class’s students, the material poses added difficulties because their prior coursework is based primarily in software and coding. 

“I think it’s pretty important for [computer engineers] to have that understanding of how a computer actually physically works,” Deng said. “I think it’s definitely way more interesting for electrical engineers.”

Howard echoed this thought, stating that the course was still essential in giving him background in another area of engineering.

Engineering junior Shiva Suri said ESE 370 is considered a “make it or break it” course in the Computer Engineering Department and added that, despite his interest in the material, he would not take it if it were not required of him.

“It has a pretty dreadful reputation in its difficulty," Suri said. "But for us CompEs, it’s required so we don’t have a choice."

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.