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A First-Year Power Plant Design Project

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Energy Conversion and Conservation Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

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Paper Authors


Benjamin Emery Mertz Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Dr. Benjamin Mertz received his Ph. D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 2010 and B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 2005. He spent 7 years as a part of a lecturer team at Arizona State University that focused on the first-year engineering experience, including developing and teaching the Introduction to Engineering course. Currently, he is an assistant professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in the Mechanical Engineering department. His teaching focus is in fluid mechanics and thermodynamics but has also taught classes such as numerical methods and introduction to engineering. His interests include student pathways and motivations into engineering and developing lab-based curriculum. He has also developed an interest in non-traditional modes of content delivery including online classes and flipped classrooms and incorporating the entrepreneurial mindset into curriculum.

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This evidence-based practice paper discusses the development and refinement of a first-year engineering design project related to electrical power generation, including the use of renewable energy resources. An important aspect of any Introduction to Engineering course is the project or projects which are chosen for the students to work on. A wide range of projects have been developed and presented in literature and range in scope from simple in-class design projects to semester-long projects [1-5]. A good project is one that offers students a chance to build upon their engineering skills while engaging them in a problem that is of interest to them. It has been considered a best practice among introductory engineering design course developers to choose projects which highlight the engineering design process (build-test-refine cycle), are “hands-on”, and team based. [1-3]

For the past seven years, a renewable energy project (later expanded to include non-renewable energy options) has been used at a large, southwest research institution as a part of the Introduction to Engineering class. The basic idea of the project is that multidisciplinary teams would work together to create a prototype power plant for a fictional town. The goal was to produce electrical power by harnessing resources such as falling water, wind, and light (a platform was built to provide these sources via a pump, fan, and light bulbs), or any other sources of energy that they could harness safely and for the prescribed budget. The teams of students build fully functional prototypes (producing on the order of 1-100 mW of electrical power) while meeting the needs of their stakeholders (fictional). The stakeholders provided constraints as well as opened up opportunities to create value in creative ways. While the focus of the class is dedicated to the engineering design process, other skills such as experimental design, modelling, technical drawing, Matlab programming, basic circuits, technical communication, and basic prototyping skills were also taught in the context of this project.

This paper will discuss the details of this project and its evolution to include predictive modelling, entrepreneurial mindset, non-renewable energy sources, and just-in-time learning. The rationale behind how this project was designed and modified will be discussed in relation to the course goals and course format and some successes will be highlighted. Finally, recommendations will be given for how this project could be implemented in different contexts.


[1] S. Sheppard and R. Jennison, “Freshman engineering design experiences and organizational framework,” International journal of Engineering Education, vol. 13, pp. 190-197, 1997.

[2] M. B. R. Vallim, J. M. Farines and J. E. R. Cury, “Practicing engineering in a freshman introductory course,” Education, IEEE Transaction on, vol. 49, pp.74-79, 2006.

[3] S. D. Sheppard and J. Jenison, “Thoughts on freshman engineering design experiences,” in Frontiers in Education Conference, 1996. FIE’96. 26th Annual Conference, the proceedings of, pp. 909-913 vol. 2, 1996.

[4] Reid,K., Ferguson, D.M., “Enhancing the entrepreneurial mindset of freshman engineers”, in American Society of Engineering Education, proceedings of, Vancouver, BC, 2011.

[5] Singh, P., Moncada, M.V., “Instilling the entrepreneurial mindset by international development project”, in American Society of Engineering Education, proceedings of, Seattle, WA, 2015.

Mertz, B. E. (2019, June), A First-Year Power Plant Design Project Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--31955

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