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A New Vision for Engineering Design Instruction: On the Innovative Six Course Design Sequence of James Madison University

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Design Spine

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.81.1 - 25.81.19



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Paper Authors


Olga Pierrakos James Madison University

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Olga Pierrakos is an Associate Professor and founding faculty member in the School of Engineering, which is graduating its inaugural class May 2012, at James Madison University. Pierrakos holds a B.S. in engineering science and mechanics, an M.S. in engineering mechanics, and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Virginia Tech. Her interests in engineering education research center around recruitment and retention, engineering design instruction and methodology, learning through service (NSF EFELTS project), understanding engineering students through the lens of identity theory (NSF BRIGE grant), advancing problem-based learning methodologies (NSF CCLI grant), assessing student learning, and understanding and integrating complex problem solving in undergraduate engineering education (NSF CAREER grant). Her other research interests lie in cardiovascular fluid mechanics, sustainability, and K-12 engineering outreach.

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Eric C. Pappas James Madison University

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Eric Pappas is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering and Department of Integrated Science and Technology at James Madison University. Email:

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Robert L. Nagel James Madison University

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Robert Nagel is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering at James Madison University. Nagel joined the University after completing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Oregon State University. He has a B.S. from Trine University and a M.S. from Missouri University of Science and Technology, both in mechanical engineering. Nagel has performed research with the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, General Motors Research and Development Center, and the U.S. Air Force Academy. His research interests include understanding customer needs, functional and process modeling, design for sustainability, design for accessibility, and engineering design education.

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Jacquelyn Kay Nagel James Madison University

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Jacquelyn K. Nagel is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering at James Madison University. Nagel has seven years of diversified engineering design experience, both in academia and industry, and has experienced engineering design in a range of contexts, including product design, biomimetic design, electrical and control system design, manufacturing system design, and design for the factory floor. Nagel earned her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Oregon State University and her M.S. and B.S. in manufacturing engineering and electrical engineering, respectively, from the Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly known as University of Missouri, Rolla). Nagel’s long-term goal is to drive engineering innovation by applying her multidisciplinary engineering expertise to design, analysis, instrumentation, and manufacturing challenges.

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A New Vision for Engineering Design Instruction: On the Innovative Six Course Design Sequence of James Madison UniversityThe rapid pace of technological progress and future challenges for globalization, sustainability,complexity, and adaptability of engineering professionals call for the paradigm shift inengineering design education. TheSchool of Engineering at James Madison University, which isgraduating its inaugural engineering class in May 2012, has been developed from the ground upto not be an engineering discipline-specific program, but to provide students training with anemphasis on engineering design, systems thinking, and sustainability. Our vision is to producecross-disciplinary engineer versatilists. One important place in the curriculum where this isachieved is the six course (10-credit) design sequence which is the spine of the curriculum.Starting with the sophomore design courses (Engineering Design I and II), the focus is onteaching students the process of design including the phases of planning, conceptdevelopment, system-level design, detail design, as well as testing and refinement. Groundedon a novel and multi-dimensional problem-based learning (PBL) pedagogy, students also learnand apply engineering design tools and methods to a two semester, real-world, problem-based,service learning project.This pedagogy continues in the capstone design experience(Engineering Design III through VI), where students are provided with important instructionconcurrently withtheir capstone design experience, in which theywork in groups with one ormore faculty advisors on a four semester, two-year project. In this four-semester sequence,students apply the engineering design process and design tools and methods learned during thesophomore design courses to their new projects.Our vision in teaching the engineering design process is to enable mastery learning throughdirected and non-directed, group-based and independent, simple and complex, structured andunstructured, problem-based learning experiences that incrementally expose and reiterate thedesign process. Our goal is to teach our students to be adaptive problem solvers and havecognitive flexibility when solving problems—an essential skill for these future engineers to learnif they are going work toward developing a sustainable society. The following overarchingattributes build this vision: (1) breadth and depth, (2) balance between theory and practice, (3)balance between qualitative and quantitative reasoning, (4) developmental instruction insystems thinking and sustainability, (5) integrating cross-disciplinarity perspectives, (6) processand not just content (i.e. cognitive processes), and (7) bridging engineering skills withprofessional skills such as communication, project management, team and collaborative work,ethics, etcetera. In this paper, we present how each course in the six-course sequence builds offthe prior providing moderate instruction over a long period of time and buildingdevelopmentally on prior learning outcomes, all while in the context of authentic andmeaningful PBL experiences. It is such skills and attitudes that students learn and practice overa long period of time (with regular support from and collaboration with faculty) that arecriticalin students taking ownership of and tailoring to their own abilities and design habits.

Pierrakos, O., & Pappas, E. C., & Nagel, R. L., & Nagel, J. K. (2012, June), A New Vision for Engineering Design Instruction: On the Innovative Six Course Design Sequence of James Madison University Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20841

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