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A New Framework for Student-Led Cocurricular Design Projects

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Design Across Curriculum 1

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Nicole Danielle Trenchard Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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Nicole Trenchard is an Engineering Sciences degree candidate at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. A member of the Harvard College Class of 2020, her professional focus has been on hardware engineering. In addition to her mechanical engineering coursework, Miss Trenchard has served as a student volunteer, project lead, and state representative with the Harvard SEAS Engineers Without Borders Chapter. In 2019 she started her three-year term as the Student Representative to the Engineers Without Borders- USA Board of Directors.

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Christopher Lombardo Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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Dr. Christopher Lombardo is an Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies and Lecturer at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Dr. Lombardo received Bachelor of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering and Physics from the University of Maryland at College Park and a Master of Science and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Electrical Engineering from the The University of Texas at Austin. Outside of the classroom, Dr. Lombardo facilitates international engineering programs at SEAS and is currently the faculty representative to the Board of Directors of Engineering Without Borders - USA.

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This report describes an academic framework to introduce student-led extracurricular engineering design projects to an undergraduate curriculum. Typically, student-led projects are limited exclusively to the domain of extracurricular groups with only a few examples of universities assigning academic credit value to this work. Over the past four years, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has designed and implemented a structure in which students who participate in the Harvard chapter’s Engineers Without Borders USA projects have the opportunity to earn academic credit for their engineering design work. A key difference in this framework as compared to other typical capstone designs, independent studies, or research credit courses is that undergraduate TAs and project managers within the project teams are responsible for developing many of the assignments distributed to those students enrolled the course as the project progresses. The methods of student assessment within this framework include: individual or small-group weekly assignments, design notebook checks, peer and self-evaluations, participation, summative technical reports, and the Humanitarian Library. Additionally, unlike many traditional problem set or laboratory courses, student skills are developed through an iterative revision process on weekly assignments based on feedback given by the instructional staff after each submission, a process that produces increasingly refined deliverables that depend on work completed in the previous weeks. A similar process exists for each component of the Humanitarian Library. The authors believe that this process of iterative student and instructor co-creation and co-evaluation can lead to a greater depth of understanding of technical content, active engagement in real-world engineering ethics, and increased effectiveness of project outcomes.

This report will present the logistics and course administration required to design and implement such a course. It will characterize the instructional staff makeup, organization of class meetings, and the range of assignment types. Student satisfaction with the course is evaluated at the end of the term using Harvard’s course evaluation scores, which can be compared to all courses within the engineering department and SEAS-wide scores. The course is also assessed via direct written feedback provided by enrolled students to the instructional staff multiple times throughout the term. The authors believe that this framework is highly applicable beyond Humanitarian Design Projects at Harvard and even beyond engineering-based service projects. Extracurricular projects that exhibit potential for this student-led and co-created class include the ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition, the ASME Human Powered Vehicle Challenge, the RoboCup games, the iGEM competition, etc. This framework has the potential to combine academic coursework with real-world engineering challenges in a way that challenges students to co-design and implement strategies for completing the stated learning and project objectives.

Trenchard, N. D., & Lombardo, C. (2020, June), A New Framework for Student-Led Cocurricular Design Projects Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34025

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