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An Approach for Young Professionals to Teach Design Courses

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division (DEED) Technical Session 11

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education Division (DEED)



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Paper Authors


Robert Kidd State University of New York Maritime College

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Dr. Kidd completed his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Florida in 2011, 2013, and 2015 respectively. He worked at the Center for Intelligent Machines and Robotics at UF from 2009 to 2015 researching the use autonomous ground vehicles including ATVs, a Toyota Highlander, and a Posi-Track tractor. Since 2015, he has taught capstone mechanical design courses at SUNY Maritime College. His current research focuses on applications of autonomy to the maritime environment.

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How can “young professionals” inspire and direct capstone students when we have not been “professionals”? I have been involved in running capstone design courses for mechanical engineering since Fall 2011 except for one year of sophomore design, and this has always been the most challenging issue. This paper proposes a targeted approach to teaching design courses for young academics who lack real-world design experience. This approach relies heavily on emphasizing that while still analytical, the design course is not about formulas or equations. Instead, it focuses on learning how to think. Rephrasing the course in this way serves to direct the students toward the objectives of the course and to deemphasize experience. This is reinforced through three focus areas: reverse engineering, optimization, and leaving the student’s “safe zone” of experience. Utilizing this implementation, student designs have shown marked improvement and students have indicated greatly increased ratings for the instructor regarding knowledge of material and overall effectiveness. Reverse engineering, optimization, and leaving the “safe zone” were chosen because each of them challenge the students to apply what they’ve already learned. With reverse engineering, students have both the question and the answer. From product specifications, they have the need statements for the design, and they have an answer in terms of a design that theoretically satisfies that need statement. Instead of searching for the answer, they have to determine how the problem fits together. They have to explain through engineering principles how the design – the answer – meets the need – the question – and then perform tests to determine if it does in practice. There is no new material or theory presented here, merely an application of what they’ve already learned. The next focus area, optimization, pushes the students to figure out what questions they should be asking by considering the scope of complex problems. Rather than focusing on, for example, what diameter is necessary for a shaft, students have to determine what they would consider the “best” shaft and then define what performance specifications the shaft must also meet. Again, there is no new material or theory. Often times, this is just a matter of increasing the scope of problems already done to consider the surrounding environment or initial assumptions. Once this is done, optimization tools picked up in mathematics courses can be applied to generate solutions. This has the additional benefit of forcing students to try to perform concrete analyses of their design problems instead of utilizing a guess-and-check or a duct-tape-and-super-glue approach. Lastly, once those topics are covered and students are comfortable with the idea of applying what they have learned to familiar problems, they need to be presented with unfamiliar problems. These problems are outside the “safe zone” of their previous courses, meaning that students cannot go back and lookup solutions. This is typically the hardest step. Students are always looking for “the formula”, but a large component of design involves working where no formula exists. They need to apply what they have learned to develop the formula on their own. For example, a commonly studied and taught heat transfer problem deals with flow perpendicular to an infinitely long pipe. In practice, flow often runs parallel to finite-length pipes. If students can complete this transition toward applying what they have learned to foreign problems, they produce significantly improved designs. Due to the variability of design projects and the small size of the institution, it is extremely difficult to compare projects. However, anecdotal performance indicators show that students who are challenged with these topics and work to overcome them produce more viable designs than those who are not. Additionally, implementing these topics as focus areas significantly improved student evaluations of the instructor, even in areas such as subject knowledge. This means students do not see the instructor’s lack of experience working in the field as an impediment.

Kidd, R. (2023, June), An Approach for Young Professionals to Teach Design Courses Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--44635

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