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Characterizing The Mentoring Process For Developing Effective Design Engineers

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Teaching Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.321.1 - 11.321.9



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Paper Authors


Ann McKenna Northwestern University

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Ann McKenna is the Director of Education Improvement in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. She also holds a joint appointment as Assistant Professor in the School of Education and Social Policy and Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Dr. McKenna received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in Science and Mathematics Education from the University of California at Berkeley.

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James Colgate Northwestern University

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J. Edward Colgate received the Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering in 1988 from M.I.T. He subsequently joined Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he is currently a Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Alumnae of Northwestern Professor of Teaching Excellence. Dr. Colgate's principal research interest is human-robot interaction. He has worked extensively in the areas of haptic interface and teleoperation, and he, along with collaborator Michael Peshkin, is the inventor of a class of collaborative robots known as “cobots.” Dr. Colgate is currently the Director of IDEA – the Institute for Design Engineering and Applications – that is chartered with integrating design education throughout the engineering curriculum at Northwestern University.

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Gregory Olson Northwestern University

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Gregory B. Olson, Fellow of ASM and TMS, is the Wilson-Cook Professor of Engineering Design and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University, Associate Director for Research of the IDEA Institute for Design Engineering & Applications, Director of the Materials Technology Laboratory/Steel Research Group, and a founder of QuesTek Innovations LLC. He received the B.S. and M.S. in 1970 and Sc.D in 1974 in Materials Science from MIT and remained there in a series of senior research positions before joining the faculty of Northwestern in 1988. The author of over 200 publications, his research interests include phase transformations, structure/property relationships, applications of high resolution microanalysis, and materials design.

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

Characterizing the Mentoring Process for Developing Effective Design Engineers

Abstract Several instructional frameworks suggest using a coaching model as a pedagogical approach for open-ended types of academic tasks. These frameworks provide a theoretical foundation for a coaching teaching approach but often do not provide specifics on how to effectively enact a coaching pedagogy in particular academic settings. The current study explores the specifics of the coaching process in the context of mentoring engineering student design teams. The current study provides insight into the types of roadblocks design teams face and how our teaching strategies can help teams overcome these challenges. By aligning our teaching and coaching strategies with the actual learning and project needs of student design teams we are better positioned to produce effective, future design engineers.


Design courses emphasize learning-by-doing and applying knowledge and skills to develop feasible solutions to real needs. At a minimum, students are expected to perform the dual task of applying rigorous design process principles as well as utilizing domain specific knowledge to generate, analyze, and evaluate potential solutions. Given this action-oriented approach inherent in design courses, educators are faced with providing a pedagogical strategy that is consistent with the goals of design education. In project-based or design courses instruction often takes the form of coaching or mentoring rather than didactic transmission of information. While many engineering design courses adopt a coaching model it is not clear what is required, or expected, to effectively guide design teams to successful solutions.

The current work is an exploratory study to review the coaching process of several engineering design projects from both the student and mentor perspective. We interviewed several students and project mentors to understand the project and learning needs of design teams and the nature of the guidance provided by the mentors. The current study provides insight into the type of roadblocks design teams face and how our teaching strategies can help teams overcome these struggles. By aligning our teaching strategies with the actual needs of student design teams we are better positioned to produce effective, future design engineers.

Background on the Institute of Design Engineering and Applications

At Northwestern University the Institute for Design Engineering and Applications (IDEA) was formed as a collaborative effort; engineering faculty, the administration, engineering students, and experts from industry worked together to establish learning goals and design project experiences for our design curriculum. In IDEA design courses students work in teams to develop design solutions to real projects for actual clients. Students interact with clients, product users, experts, instructors, and teammates throughout the design process and are required to convey design ideas to multiple audiences1, 2.

McKenna, A., & Colgate, J., & Olson, G. (2006, June), Characterizing The Mentoring Process For Developing Effective Design Engineers Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--807

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