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An Introductory Design and Communication Course Intended for all Engineering Majors Takes it to the Farm

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Design Assessment

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Jennifer S. Mullin University of California, Davis

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Jennifer S. Mullin is a faculty member in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at UC Davis.

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Jean S. VanderGheynst University of California, Davis

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Jean VanderGheynst is Executive Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies and Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering in the College of Engineering at University of California, Davis. Her prior leadership positions at UC Davis include Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies (2009-2013) and Interim Dean (2015) in the College of Engineering. Dr. VanderGheynst’s research focuses on next generation biofuels and bioproducts and agricultural biotechnology. Current projects examine the management of microbial communities in applications including water treatment, food and energy production, and soil treatment for the control of pests and pathogens. More than $9 million of her extramural funding at UC Davis has been in support of undergraduate and graduate student preparation in engineering. This includes a NSF GK-12 award to improve leadership, communication and collaboration skills, and teaching capabilities in engineering graduate students pursuing research in the areas of renewable energy, climate change and environmental sustainability. She received her BS degree from Syracuse University in Chemical Engineering in 1991 and PhD degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering from Cornell University in 1997. She has served on the faculty at UC Davis since 1996.

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Poster will present course development and implementation strategies along with student outcomes for a hybrid communication and design class offered to all engineering students regardless of their standing or major. The course, piloted in Fall 2015, was fully implemented in Fall 2017 with the intention of growing enrollment across the college of engineering mainly to improve retention and to strengthen students’ communications skills without increasing time to degree. A core objective of the course was to provide vital connections between engineering content and open-ended creative problem-solving through an engaging multidisciplinary design experience. Course structure involved a combination of two weekly large format interactive lecture sessions followed by a weekly hands-on collaborative studio session where smaller groups of students participated in communication and engineering design-related activities. Course content included a balance of communication and engineering design topics such as active listening, prototyping, and teamwork. Homework and presentation assignments were structured around a team-based engineering design project that emphasized key stages of the engineering design process along with several forms of communication that engineers typically utilize in design. A few examples of the types of engineering communication explored in the course include the elevator pitch, posters, team review meetings and slide presentations. Given the diversity of engineering majors enrolled in the course, faculty focused early on to provide all students with useful prototyping and technology skills in order to promote a common knowledge base before assigning the design teams. These initial lessons focused on physical computing technology as very few students had prior experience with said technology. It was also assumed that these skills would be important for future design projects such as a capstone design. All students had hands-on access to a Raspberry Pi and Arduino electronics kit in addition to an integrated computing curriculum developed for these purposes. Collaboration with the university’s student farm, a substantial campus unit that encompasses an ecological garden, community service agriculture (CSA) and farm market garden, provided a unique and accessible client for students to openly explore, identify and address needs through their physical computing-themed design project. A dedicated faculty member was recruited and assigned to lead course enhancements towards facilitating further expansion of the course. Concurrently, an educational research plan was initiated in order to better understand the students’ educational needs and interests. The course team included undergraduate and graduate student assistants who provided critical support, feedback and assistance. Initial research findings focused on changes in each student’s self-efficacy in engineering design using a vetted pre- and post- survey instrument. Data collection included surveys on students’ prior knowledge and skills with physical computing technology, along with case studies exploring students’ experiences with open-ended creative problem-solving on the multidisciplinary design project. Integrated communication and engineering design topics provided a rich opportunity to explore student engagement and retention issues in the college across a wider population of students. Implications, findings and future plans will be discussed.

Mullin, J. S., & VanderGheynst, J. S. (2018, June), An Introductory Design and Communication Course Intended for all Engineering Majors Takes it to the Farm Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29794

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