Education Unlocks the Golden Door to Freedom
“Education is the key to unlock the golden door to freedom.”
– George Washington Carver
This month I speak with the PCEA Educational Committee regarding the team’s take on the PCEA’s role in education. What do they have in store? Next, PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez weighs in on the strength of the Education Committee and why it is crucial to the PCEA’s mission. Finally, with our normally provided list of professional development opportunities and events, I give a preview of next month’s column.

PCEA updates. The PCEA Educational Committee discusses the importance of well-rounded technical curricula, as well as how they started in the industry. It covers PCEA educational resources, including technical books, papers, and lunch-and-learn webinars, as well as chapter presentations and field trips. Upcoming presentation topics include materials, high speed, advanced placement and routing, power distribution, and flexible circuits. You will also learn more about the PCEA’s mentor pairing program.

Kelly Dack: Today, I am speaking with Rick Hartley, Mike Creeden, Tara Dunn, Gary Ferrari, and Susy Webb. Thank you for coming together as members of the PCEA Educational Committee. One of the main goals of the PCEA, along with collaborating and inspiring the electronics community, is to find ways to engage our membership in the realm of education and seek out ways to fulfill their needs. How is that going?

Rick Hartley: Over the past few months, as we were generating content for our website, we brainstormed ideas about what to offer our audience and how best to reach them. What you are going to hear from us are efforts to share knowledge with our industry peers.

Susy Webb: Our website is chock-full of technical information. We provide informational links to guide industry professionals through links to technical papers. The topics range from general electronics theory to high-speed SI, EMI, power, flex design, HDI and DFM. It is a very comprehensive list.

Mike Creeden: Not only do we provide a full page of content links under our technical info section, we also have another full page of references in our books section. We list works from authors including Bruce Archambeault, Eric Bogatin, Clyde Coombs, Clive Maxfield, Christopher Robinson, Lee Ritchey, Howard Johnson, and many more.

Dack: Let’s talk more about what value-added content the PCEA Educational Committee is bringing to the electronics PCB engineering community. Do you have any plans for programs offering financial assistance or scholarships for young engineers?

Creeden: We have a spot explaining our mentor pairing program on our website. Our website is becoming quite automated, and we now have a way of taking feedback request data entered on the site and matching it with other solution data on the site.

Readers can find that on the education page of our website under the topic “mentor pairing.” It is a very simple process to sign up for this service. We have a section to fill out if you would like to be a mentor or be mentored. Then, we have a place to fill in your areas of expertise and the software you use or are proficient in. This keeps users of the same category of software tools in the same family. We make the introduction to facilitate the mentoring relationship but then allow the mentor and mentee to take it from there. We feel this is a very good solution to fulfill the collaborative commission we speak about.

Dack: Gary, you’ve served quite a lot in the PCB fabrication industry. How did you get your start? Were you mentored?

Gary Ferrari: I did not have any mentors on the electronics side. On the mechanical side, I was mentored in castings and other machine gears and metals technology through meeting contacts and by job shopping in the early years. Even as I moved around the country, I always had friends. Wherever you work, you should make connections and find somebody to share knowledge with. It’s about planting seeds for lasting relationships.

Dack: You learned on the job from coworkers and peers, which transformed into a network of friends and colleagues you could tap into for advice wherever you found yourself.

Susy, you teach so many PCB design classes. Where did you fill your head full of knowledge early on?

Webb: Back then, PCB layout was an art. Now, it is definitely an electrical engineering trade, which is dramatically different. I gained a lot of knowledge by attending the many electronics trade shows and conferences that began to spring up, especially in the ’90s. I learned so much from the speakers at these shows that I felt a compelling need to share the knowledge I’d gained with others, so I started teaching my own subjects at these conferences.

Dack: Tara, I know from firsthand experience you are well-versed in teaching and mentoring folks in the electronics industries about flex circuit manufacturing and flex design and DfM. Did you start with a mentor?

Tara Dunn: I got my start in the electronics industry just out of college, working for a small flexible circuit manufacturer. Working with a small company provided the opportunity to wear many hats and learn the PCB fabrication process and industry quickly. I was fortunate to work with several mentors helping me understand both flex technology and the PCB industry in general. Because of the foundation that effort provided me, I feel strongly about mentoring and helping others new to the industry, or new to flexible circuits.

Hartley: In addition to what we mentioned earlier, there will be a great emphasis on local presentations to our local chapters whose members have incredible backgrounds and much to share.

Dack: Susy, you emphasize the importance of going to these shows to connect and learn. Do you feel a need to facilitate education by getting your students out of the classroom and into a PCB fab shop or EMA site for a more tactile learning experience?

Image of The PCEA Education Committee
FIGURE 1. The PCEA Education Committee.
Webb: Getting our membership out to see the equipment that makes design so important is not to be underestimated. This practice has been implemented in many of our local chapters over the years. We have discussed ways of doing this in a virtual fashion recently with Covid-19. But there is nothing like showing up at a PCB shop with boots on the ground. It makes it easy to ask spontaneous questions and get feedback. Without feedback, it’s hard to become a good designer.

Creeden: Rather than tell stories of mentoring, which people don’t fully get, I explain it like serving as an apprentice under the guidance of a tradesman. We all grew up in the companies that hired us, and they modeled the designer hierarchy similarly by calling us junior designers. As we gained knowledge, we became designers and then senior designers. The electronics industry has bypassed that system of gradual learning. Without understanding the complexities of the trade, management now just hires a new engineer and says, “Here is a 32-layer board design that will require HDI. Get ’er done.”

Our industry has lost the apprenticeship. New EEs today may have taken a couple of day courses in PCB layout or can find a 40-hour class offered by an organization, but there is nothing that will systematically build our profession like the unions of the trades.

Dack: In a sense, all company structures can facilitate an apprentice program in some way if they have the experience within their staff. But if their staff is inexperienced, they may suffer from intellectual inbreeding. Is this where the PCEA comes in? Does meeting within a local chapter fill this gap of outside knowledge by bringing it into the chapter via presentations?

Hartley: Not only that, but it couples with the mentoring we discussed earlier. Combatting intellectual inbreeding requires getting out of the office and being subject to new ideas and methodologies. Our presentations and mentoring are not only about learning a software tool; it can also be about a method or a process. A junior designer could mentor with any of us in the PCEA. Besides some colorful language, who knows what they could learn! (laughs)

Webb: It is important to continue this type of education throughout your career because if you have designed only one board – and you think that if it was somehow built successfully, you are a board designer who can design anything – you might be surprised. The importance of continued learning is critical because the next board design could have an entirely different scheme of technology that could cause you to fail miserably.

Ferrari: I’ve mentored several people over the years about how to grow their long-term career paths. I’ve guided them to look to the future and where they want to go. Mentoring is all around, and we want to be a part of it because we feel we have the right experience in the PCEA to help. Our local chapters are dialed in to help, too. There is a lot of opportunity in our local chapters to ask questions and get help through presentations and peer review.

Dack: It’s good to hear about your progress and plans for the upcoming months. Thank you deeply for your service to the industry.

Message from the Chairman
by Stephen Chavez, MIT, CID+
Another month has gone by, and I am still amazed at how the PCEA continues to expand globally, as each day, week, and month comes and goes. So much positive activity is taking place regarding the PCEA, as our membership continues to grow along with our sponsorships. As I collect my thoughts on all the activities taking place, I feel a sense of euphoria still in the air from our grand opening in early July.

When I think about the powerhouse of industry professionals on the PCEA Education Committee, the first word that pops into my head is “wow!” The PCEA Education Committee is made up of five main individuals whose combined industry experience is easily over 200 years. The PCEA is blessed to have the following individuals that make up the Education Committee:

  1. Mike Creeden, technical director of design education, Insulectro (vice chairman of the PCEA)
  2. Tara Dunn, president and founder, Omni PCB
  3. Gary Ferrari, executive consultant, Ferrari Technical Services Inc.
  4. Rick Hartley, principal engineer, RHartley Enterprises
  5. Susy Webb, senior PCB designer, Design Science PCB

At the core of the PCEA, our mission is to collaborate, inspire, and educate. These five people have been doing that daily for a very long time. They are more than industry professionals; they are close and dear friends whom I have had the pleasure to come to know for over 15 years.

At many industry conferences and workshops around the world, Mike, Tara, Gary, Rick, and Susy bring it. They pack the house every time they step up to the microphone, walk on stage, or set up to lecture as a featured speaker on many industry webinars. These five professionals are true industry icons. When I think about how blessed the PCEA is to have these five amazing professionals that make up our Education Committee, I strongly feel we could not be in better hands as we move forward.

Again, the most important thing that our PCEA Education Committee brings to the table is its combination of over 200 years of industry experience, along with endless wells of industry knowledge when it comes to printed circuit engineering.

If you have not yet joined the PCEA, I highly encourage you to do so by visiting our website ( I continue to wish everyone and their families health and safety.

Next Month: Chapter Reports
You can distance this body but not this mind. You can’t keep good folks down. This virus has certainly tried, but our PCEA chapter leaders have been working in the background to plan events to bring the membership in local areas together. Next month, I am looking forward to pulling our local chapter leadership together for some behind the scenes reaction to the challenges of Covid-19 and what they are doing to overcome its attempts to shut down our collaboration engines: the local chapter meetings.

Our chapter activities are coming alive, and our membership is benefitting from the synergy of their collaboration. Please look forward to my Zoom meeting interview with this dynamic group of leaders in next month’s column.

Professional Development and Events
  • Sept. 8–Oct. 13, 2020: PCB West Virtual 2020
  • Sept. 28–Oct. 23, 2020: SMTA International – Virtual
  • Oct. 7–9, 2020: AltiumLive – Virtual
  • Mar. 6–11, 2021: IPC Apex Expo (San Diego, California)
  • Apr. 13–15, 2021: DesignCon (Santa Clara, California)
  • May 5–6, 2021: Del Mar Electronics & Manufacturing Show (Del Mar, California)
  • May 11–13, 2021: IPC High-Reliability Forum 2021 (Baltimore, Maryland)
  • Nov. 10, 2021: PCB Carolina (Raleigh, North Carolina)

Spread the word. If you have a significant electronics industry event that you would like to announce, please send me the details at, and we will consider adding it to the list.

See you next month or sooner!

Image of Kelly Dack
Kelly Dack, CIT, CID+,
is the communication officer for the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). Read past columns or contact Dack;