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A Project Based Freshman Engineering Design Experience First

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.38.1 - 2.38.5



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Paper Authors

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Kirk E. Hiles

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

Session 2325

A Project-Based Freshman Engineering Design Experience - FIRST Kirk E. Hiles United States Coast Guard Academy


During the Spring Semester of 1997, a freshman engineering class was immersed into the engineering design process by working side-by-side with faculty, engineers and high school students to design and construct a robot to compete in the FIRST Competition. The students studied and applied a nine step design process to bring their conceptual paper designs to life by building a 3'x'3'x4', 120 pound robot in just six weeks. Based on student feedback, this hands-on application of the engineering design process was much more effective (and more fun) than the traditional lecture style course. The freshman felt they learned a great deal more about 'real' engineering when faced with deadlines, budget constraints, teamwork conflicts, the laws of physics, etc. The FIRST robot competition is an ideal project to expose freshman to the engineering design process.


The Introduction to Engineering Design (IED) course at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) is a one semester course and is part of the core curriculum taken by all freshmen. The course begins with a nine step design process1 to provide a logical technique for solving problems encountered throughout the semester. The problems involve various engineering disciplines such as naval architecture, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, engineering economics, etc., as well as several 'liberal arts' topics including creativity, ethics, and TQM 2. In a radical departure from this traditional IED course, one of the six sections competed in a robotic competition involving industry and high schools called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

The FIRST Competition began in 1992 in Manchester, NH. The USCGA has been involved since 1994 as part of the mechanical engineering senior design projects. As stated in the FIRST literature3, "The Competition is a national engineering contest which immerses high school students in the exciting world of engineering. Teaming up with engineers from businesses and universities, students get a hands-on, inside look at the engineering profession. In six intense weeks, students and engineers work together to brainstorm, design, construct and test their 'champion robot.' With only six weeks, all jobs are critical path. The teams then compete in a spirited, no-holds-barred tournament complete with referees, spectators, cheerleaders and time clocks." The FIRST Competition is an ideal venue to introduce students to engineering design, and immerses them into a hands-on design experience complete with budgets, deadlines and other factors that challenge their project management skills. This paper outlines how USCGA incorporates the FIRST project into the Introduction to Engineering Design course, and how the project provides a real life application of the nine step design process.

Hiles, K. E. (1997, June), A Project Based Freshman Engineering Design Experience First Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6750

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