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A "Nifty" Laboratory For First Year Engineering Students

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.8.1 - 5.8.9



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Paper Authors

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Susan M. Lord

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Jose A. Macedo

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Rick T. Olson

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

Session 2553

A "NIFTY" Laboratory for First-Year Engineering Students Jose A. Macedo, Susan M. Lord, and Rick T. Olson University of San Diego


This paper describes an innovative first-year engineering laboratory in which students design and build electromechanical models of systems by applying methods used by practicing engineers. At the University of San Diego (USD), the project is known as the eNgineering Improvement in a FirsT Year (NIFTY) Design Project. The main objective of this laboratory is to help students start developing several key engineering skills early in the curriculum. This entertaining yet challenging learning environment also helps retain engineering students. In Spring 1999, 35 students, divided into eleven teams, created working computer-controlled systems and provided full technical documentation. Projects that students chose to build included an elevator, a Ferris wheel, a car wash, and a drawbridge. At the end of the semester, students presented their projects to local high school science classes.

The first offering of this lab at USD was very successful. All of the students said that the project improved their open-ended problem solving skills and their understanding of engineering practice. Despite the amount of work required, students unanimously recommended that the project be continued. Seventy-four percent of the students considered successfully completing their project to be the single highlight of the semester.

1. Introduction

This paper describes a laboratory methodology developed for first-year engineering students at the University of San Diego (USD) and provides results from its first offering. At USD, the project is known as the eNgineering Improvement in a FirsT Year (NIFTY) Design Project. The objectives of this methodology are to: provide an entertaining and challenging laboratory environment in which students can develop engineering skills early in their program of study, improve retention of first-year engineering students, and attract a diverse group of students to careers in engineering. The student learning goals are to develop skills to: solve open-ended problems, plan and control projects, communicate technical information, and work effectively as a member of a design team. These objectives are explicitly indicated in the ABET EC 2000 guidelines and are similar to those of first-year introduction to engineering courses at many other institutions1, 2. This laboratory methodology is unique because it includes a semester-long project in which project planning and control are essential, extensive documentation is developed throughout the project, and a service-learning component helps achieve learning goals of college and high school students.

We completed the first offering of this laboratory in ENGR 20 Computer Aided Engineering in Spring 1999. During that semester 35 students proposed, designed, built and documented eleven different computer-controlled projects.

Lord, S. M., & Macedo, J. A., & Olson, R. T. (2000, June), A "Nifty" Laboratory For First Year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--17022

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