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Cramming Twenty Pounds Into A Five Pound Bag: Increasing Curricular Loads On Design Students And Enjoying It

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Teaching Design

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.336.1 - 7.336.9



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Paper Authors

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Cary Fisher

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John Feland

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

Main Menu Session 2125

Cramming Twenty Pounds into a Five-Pound Bag: Increasing Curricular Loads On Design Students And Enjoying It!

J. M. Feland and C. A. Fisher

Stanford University / United States Air Force Academy


Design has grown both as a discipline and as a domain. As a result, the number of topics to be covered in an undergraduate design course has also grown dramatically. Mechanical engineering students need a working familiarity with the various new design methodologies, proficiency with powerful Computer Aided Design (CAD) and solid modeling tools, and exposure to modern manufacturing methods. Industry (and ABET) demands that they be able to work in teams, and be effective communicators. Of course, they need to “do” design, that is, to demonstrate “the ability to work professionally in both thermal and mechanical systems areas including the design and realization of such systems.”1

How can we pack all these important design topics into an already crowded first design course without turning students off to engineering? This is especially true at the United States Air Force Academy, where a student’s life is highly structured. In response to this apparent paradox of increasing design topic instruction without impacting student motivation for engineering, professors in the Department of Engineering Mechanics redesigned ME 290, the cadets’ first design course. We increased the amount and rigor of design methods taught, as well as added an additional design contest into this semester long course, raising the total design contests to three. In addition, we also increased the role of peer-to-peer teaching in the course. The end result has been both increased coverage of course material, as well as improvements in student performance and attitude. In this paper we reveal our secrets for increasing student load while making them happy.


ME290 is the sophomore level introduction to design course at the Air Force Academy in the mechanical engineering curriculum. It introduces students to the design process, pumps them full of enthusiasm for engineering design, and gives them several hands-on design opportunities. It gives them a roadmap for their follow-on engineering courses and, most importantly, experientially demonstrates the value of these future courses in “filling their analytical and design toolbox.” In fact, the design toolbox has evolved into an integrating metaphor now used throughout this and follow-on engineering courses.

ME 290 got a powerful jump start through the Herculean efforts of University of Texas Visiting Associate Professor Dr. Kris Wood, and Air Force Academy Assistant Professor Dr. Dan Jensen. They introduced formal design methods and a serialized design process focused on function, dividing the semester into methods to assist with the redesign of existing products and

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Fisher, C., & Feland, J. (2002, June), Cramming Twenty Pounds Into A Five Pound Bag: Increasing Curricular Loads On Design Students And Enjoying It Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10426

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