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A Hands On "Introduction To Engineering" Course For Large Numbers Of Students

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.16.1 - 4.16.7

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William Durfee

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3266

A Hands-On “Introduction to Engineering” Course For Large Numbers of Students William K. Durfee Department of Mechanical Engineering University of Minnesota


The Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota has developed a new engineering design curriculum to meet the pedagogical needs of undergraduate mechanical engineering students and which could also serve as a model for design education at large state universities. The major outcome was the creation of a core lower division course, Introduction to Engineering, which now has an enrollment of just under 200 students per year. The course has a hands-on approach and students learn engineering fundamentals and specific engineering skills through a series of dissection and design assignments. Resources were developed to allow students to fabricate their design projects at home and to use the Web rather than course staff as a first source of information and guidance. In this way cost and teaching staff for the course were minimized. The course has completed its third year and has gathered anecdotal evidence of success.

I. Introduction

The goal of this project was to change the way in which design was taught at the University of Minnesota, and thus serve as a model for design education at any large, public university. In particular, the faculty were interested in returning a hands-on design component to engineering education and having design be a unifying theme throughout the student's undergraduate program. This was in contrast to our old program where design was a subject tacked on at the end with the view that a student was not qualified to do design until the fundamentals of engineering were mastered.

A particular objective of this work was to demonstrate that hands-on projects could be realized in large courses. There is a widespread perception that core undergraduate courses with large numbers of students are incompatible with design and build projects because too much supervision and extensive shop and construction facilities are required and significant cost are incurred. Because experiential design should be an integral part of any engineering curriculum, our experiences may server as an example for others wishing to take the same path.

II. Background and Origins

This project must be viewed in the context of current engineering education practice. Engineering design is widely recognized as a critical component of any undergraduate engineering curriculum. Recently there has been considerable debate on what and how to teach design. The debate is fueled by the perception that methods of teaching design which may have worked in the past are no longer appropriate for the current era of intense global competition, pressure to be first to market and increased emphasis on quality that dictates the success of modern products. Industry has also become increasingly uncomfortable with how designers are being educated. Leaders in industry are calling for a broadening of the scope of education rather than additional training in specific technical skills. The new product design leader must not only be technically competent, but must also be able to define the needs of the customer, assimilate and manage the flow of information

Durfee, W. (1999, June), A Hands On "Introduction To Engineering" Course For Large Numbers Of Students Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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