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Delivering Meaningful Design-and-Build Experiences to M.E. Underclass Students in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond

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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

Impact of COVID-19 on Design Education 2

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Kevin Schmaltz Western Kentucky University

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Kevin Schmaltz has been at Western Kentucky University for eighteen years, previously serving as the Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Lake Superior State University. Before entering the academic world, he was a project engineer for Shell Oil responsible for the design and installation of oil and gas production facilities for offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. He has a combined 31 years of experience as an engineer in industry and in teaching. He teaches a variety of thermo-fluid and energy conversion courses, as well as design and professional component courses. He has coordinated the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior project team-taught courses in the WKU ME program. He has presented a variety of conference papers on energy conversion initiatives and engineering design initiatives in education.

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H. Joel Lenoir Western Kentucky University

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Joel Lenoir is the Layne Professor of Mechanical Engineering at WKU, and for 33 years has taught primarily in the mechanical systems and design areas of the curriculum. His industrial experience includes positions at Michelin Research and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as well as extensive professional practice in regional design and manufacturing firms. When not working in his shop building steam engines and furniture or repairing jeeps with his four children, he is often found walking his goldendoodle Luna on campus.

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The Mechanical Engineering program at institution provides an undergraduate-only, project-focused curriculum. Students are given instruction and must demonstrate their abilities to execute team-based design and build projects in all of their four years of study. The pedagogical basis for their required design classes is governed by a Professional Plan, assuring that by graduation all ME students experience key areas of the engineering profession and show the ability to perform at an acceptable professional level.

The authors of this paper have delivered the freshman and sophomore design classes at institution for more than a decade. The courses are stable, student performance in all aspects of design have been consistently assessed and deemed successful. The stability of this aspect of the curriculum was thrown into considerable turmoil with the covid pandemic in spring 2020 – no different than schools throughout the world. The spring design courses were completed in a very reactionary manner, making the best of challenging circumstances. The fall 2020 and spring 2021 classes are being delivered with more time to plan for possible disruptions and also to deal with greatly augmented university requirements related to health safety.

The Professional Plan for the institution design sequence includes: Engineering Design (executing a structured, team approach to solving problems through meaningful projects); Professional Communication (in written, spoken and graphical forms); Professional Tools (CAD/CAM/FEA as well as a variety of calculation and communication tools); and Professionalism (ethics). At the freshmen and sophomore levels, students experience their initial team design project and then a second with more technical expectations. They are learning and practicing all of the Professional Plan components, with the goal that juniors/seniors will be independently capable of implementing more rigorous team projects, and will be prepared to implement design and build projects subject to ever more realistic constraints and external customer needs.

This paper will provide specific details of our adjustments to the freshman and sophomore design sequence in the 2020-21 academic year, based on the original implementation of these classes, the rapid changes required in the spring 2020, and the ongoing current delivery. The courses are now being delivered via a combination of face-to-face and synchronous online sessions, and asynchronous online modules. The sequences of activities for the classes have been adjusted considerably. The ability of students to autonomously work on their projects has been greatly curtailed. This is obviously a work in progress, but assessment of student performance before and after covid will be compared.

This is not just a short-term disruption to endure for the near term. There can be worthwhile permanent changes to the institution design sequence that will result from the current efforts. These residual benefits will be discussed.

Schmaltz, K., & Lenoir, H. J. (2021, July), Delivering Meaningful Design-and-Build Experiences to M.E. Underclass Students in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36898

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