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A Project Driven Approach To Teaching Controls In A General Engineering Program

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

DELOS Best Paper Nominations

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.92.1 - 13.92.17



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Paper Authors


Jason Yao East Carolina University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jianchu (Jason) Yao joined the Department of Engineering at East Carolina University as an Assistant Professor in August, 2005. He received a B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from Shaanxi university of Science and Technology, China, in 1992 and 1995, respectively, and the Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from Kansas State University in 2005. His research interests include wearable medical devices, telehealthcare, bioinstrumentation, control systems, and biosignal processing. His educational research interests are laboratory/project-driven learning and integration of research into undergraduate education. Dr. Yao is a member of the American Society of Engineering Education.

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Loren Limberis East Carolina University

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Dr. Limberis joined the Engineering faculty at ECU in August 2006. He earned his B.S. in electrical engineering and Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Utah. Dr. Limberis taught for several years as an Assistant Professor at The College of New Jersey and was a research analyst with Southwest Research Institute prior to his academic career. His research interests focus on designing techniques to utilize nature’s highly complex and sophisticated biological systems to develop biohybrid devices for use in biotechnology applications.

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


At East Carolina University, a General Engineering program was initialized to meet the regional economic development needs of eastern North Carolina. A broad and interdisciplinary engineering degree with a systems focus was designed to equip students with skill sets to prepare them for “identifying user needs, developing a complete business case for technology, analyzing problems from a life cycle (concept-to-recycle) perspective, and solving the core problem rather than just superficial parts of it” [1]. The Engineering program at East Carolina University “differs from many other engineering programs” since it:

“Emphasizes the application of engineering knowledge in solving real-world problems by engaging in hands-on engineering activities beginning in the first semester; Blends math and science with engineering courses, software, and labs to offer a curriculum that puts theory into practice and turns dreams into reality; Provides an environment in which students work closely with faculty and classmates in a team-based process that promotes learning and achievement” [2] .

The Sensors, Measurements, and Controls course discussed in this article demonstrates all the above philosophical uniqueness of our engineering curriculum. This paper presents an example project that was designed to emphasize application of controls theory in designing a coupled- tank level control system, to blend differential equations, Laplace transforms, and MATLAB programming, and to provide an environment that students work together in teams under the direction of faculty members and lab supervisors. The paper starts with a brief introduction of the topics covered in this course, within the context of the general engineering core curriculum, and points out the difficulty of covering all the desired topics within the available time if conventional instructional approaches were used. It then moves to a project-driven instructional approach that can efficiently cover all the required topics. Furthermore, the second of the two course design projects—the design of a control system for the level of a coupled-tank apparatus—is detailed. The modeling, design, and testing activities during a five-week period are described in a great detail to explain how key concepts in the controls area are closely tied to the project. Finally, assessment results, including the students’ feedback, and several improvement opportunities for the future are discussed.


The Engineering program at East Carolina University consists of four concentrations: Systems Engineering, Engineering Management, Bioprocess Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering. The general structure of the engineering curriculum is shown in Figure 1: An engineering curriculum core including 15 courses (43 hours) is designated to support all four concentrations. The Sensors, Measurements, and Controls course (3 credit hours) is one of the core engineering courses. To ensure that the course provides a systems view of instrumentation and controls theory and methods and provides sufficient background for advanced study in these concentrations, the following course objectives were planned:

Yao, J., & Limberis, L. (2008, June), A Project Driven Approach To Teaching Controls In A General Engineering Program Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3529

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