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Decades of Alumni: What Can We Learn from Designing a Survey to Examine the Impact of Project-based Courses Across Generations?

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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

Design Across Curriculum 1

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2011 Dr. Sheppard was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and recently served as Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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Helen L. Chen Stanford University

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Helen L. Chen is a research scientist in the Designing Education Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. She has been involved in several major engineering education initiatives including the NSF-funded Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education, National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter), and the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education. Helen holds an undergraduate degree in communication from UCLA and a PhD in communication with a minor in psychology from Stanford University. Her current research and scholarship focus on engineering and entrepreneurship education; the pedagogy of portfolios and reflective practice in higher education; and redesigning how learning is recorded and recognized.

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George Toye Stanford University

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Ph.D., P.E., is adjunct professor in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. While engaged in teaching project based engineering design thinking and innovations at the graduate level, he also contributes to research in engineering education, effective team collaboration in concert with internet technologies. As well, he continues to be active as co-founder in startups and in varied consulting work.

George earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from U.C. Berkeley, and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with minor in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. Since 1983, he has volunteered to organize annual regional and state-level Mathcounts competitions to promote mathematics education amongst middle-school aged students.

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Felix Kempf King's College London


Nada Elfiki Stanford University

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Nada Elfiki is a researcher in the Designing Education Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Her research interests focus on the development of innovative and entrepreneurial behavior in academia and in practice. She studied Management and Technology with specializations in Mechanical Engineering, innovation and entrepreneurship as well as finance at the Technical University of Munich. She is also an alumna scholar of the entrepreneurial qualification program (Manage and More) at the Center for Innovation and Business Creation in Munich (UnternehmerTUM). Nada worked as a venture capital investment analyst and a startup strategy and business development consultant. She also worked on several innovation projects for companies such as BMW and the automotive supplier Eberspächer.

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For over half a century, the “Project-Based Engineering Design Innovation & Development” (ME310) course has engaged Stanford University graduate students in industry-sponsored projects focusing on various phases of integrated design thinking through engineering fabrication. In recent decades, in synchrony with the growing demands of today’s design engineering professionals, these projects have advanced an innovation focus both in process and outcome. Yet, evidence of how the course experience has contributed to entrepreneurial interests lies primarily in anecdotal examples and stories about the career trajectories of former students and how they have gone on to leverage their prototypes into commercial products. As a result, this research paper examines the impact of intensive course-based design experiences such as ME310 on the entrepreneurial outcomes and innovation behaviors of alumni through the design and implementation of an alumni survey aimed at gathering feedback and input into specific curricular efforts.

Administered to over 800 alumni covering a 25 year span from 1992-2018, the ME310 Alumni Survey included demographic questions and items organized around three areas: 1) educational background and career decisions such as first job after completing the course and current or most recent job; 2) attitudes towards memorable and meaningful experiences in the course including key projects, assignments, and skills and abilities acquired; and 3) entrepreneurial outcomes and self-efficacy measures focusing on innovation and design thinking. This focus on the course experience as the unit of analysis resulted in new insights and a deeper understanding of intended and unintended learning outcomes as informed by the responses of former students based on their career choice pathways in a variety of industry sectors and the ‘lessons learned’ and takeaways from the course and reported over time. This longitudinal approach to course alumni surveys can be adapted for and implemented in other courses and environments for purposes of curriculum refinement and quality improvement in order to accommodate the needs of key stakeholders including the faculty and teaching team, alumni, and current and future students.

Sheppard, S., & Chen, H. L., & Toye, G., & Kempf, F., & Elfiki, N. (2021, July), Decades of Alumni: What Can We Learn from Designing a Survey to Examine the Impact of Project-based Courses Across Generations? Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36894

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