Asee peer logo

A Thermodynamics Design Project that Applies Theory, Explores Renewable Energy Topics, and Considers the Economic and Social Impacts of the Designs

Download Paper |


2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Thermal Fluid Experiment Related

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Melissa M. Gibbons University of San Diego

visit author page

Melissa Gibbons is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of San Diego. She earned her BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Miami, and her MS and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. She received an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship while working in the Biomathematics Department at University of California, Los Angeles. Prior to joining University of San Diego, she worked as a Senior Research Engineer at L3 Technologies.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Thermodynamics courses introduce theoretical concepts that can be applied to real-world problems using impactful project-based learning (PBL). Entrepreneurially minded learning (EML) can augment PBL by instilling an entrepreneurial mindset (EM), categorized by curiosity, making connections, and creating value, in the students. This paper describes a group project created for an introductory thermal sciences course that incorporates PBL and EML. Groups were tasked with designing a natural gas power plant using the Rankine cycle and a renewable energy portfolio, both of which were required to meet University of San Diego’s energy demands. Each group had to recommend and justify one of their energy plans to the university’s Board of Trustees. The project was broken into five tasks, and a technical report was due at the semester’s end. In-class sessions were devoted to the project roll out, guided background research, and power plant design. Some assigned project work was aligned with lecture material (e.g., Rankine cycle) to replace the traditional homework assignment associated with that topic.

The project was designed to apply the first and second laws of thermodynamics and cycle analysis to a realistic open-ended problem, explore renewable energy topics, and to incorporate EML by posing the problem in such a way to create curiosity about the potential solutions, make connections between the technical designs and the broader impact those designs have from economic, environmental, and social points of view, and to motivate the students to create value for the university. A secondary objective was to improve the students’ written communication and information literacy skills. While the project was designed to meet both skillset and mindset objectives, the inclusion and assessment of the EM component was the focus of this study.

Direct assessment of seven specific EM student outcomes was performed on the submitted group work from a section of the class taught in spring 2020. Rubrics with four performance levels for each student outcome were created. A majority of the groups were proficient or exemplary in six of the EM student outcomes assessed, and all of the groups were proficient or exemplary in two. Additionally, the project was qualitatively assessed using student feedback and instructor reflections. Preliminary results indicate the project successfully met the stated PBL and EML goals. Future work will be focused on individualizing the EM assessment process and developing a baseline for comparison to determine the effectiveness of the project at meeting the stated skillset-based course outcomes.

Gibbons, M. M. (2021, July), A Thermodynamics Design Project that Applies Theory, Explores Renewable Energy Topics, and Considers the Economic and Social Impacts of the Designs Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36624

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2021 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015