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Design Education At Cal Poly: Why We Do What We Do

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Design in Freshman and Sophomore Courses

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.416.1 - 14.416.8



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Paper Authors


Saeed Niku California Polytechnic State University

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Saeed Niku is a professor of mechanical engineering at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He has taught courses in mechanics, robotics, and design since 1983. His research interests are in the same areas, as well as biomechanics and design for the disabled. He has also written two textbooks, "Introduction to Robotics; Analysis, Systems, Aplication" and "Creative Design of Products and Systems". Saeed has also worked with a variety of companies, coalitions, and institutions. Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Davis, 1982. M.Sc., Mechanical Engineering (Design), Stanford University, 1976. B.Sc., Mechanical Engineering, Tehran Polytechnic, 1975. Registered Mechanical Engineer in State of California.

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Frank Owen California Polytechnic State University

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

Design Education at Cal Poly: Why We Do What We Do


Design education at Cal Poly starts in the freshman year and continues through the senior year. At the freshman level, we introduce students to design concepts through a 1-unit lab that includes dissection of different devices, experiments with microprocessors, as well as design and building of a device for a competition. The sophomore level course includes creative design, design process, human factors, aesthetics and styling, design factors and issues, intellectual property, liability, and economics of design. In this course students design and build both whimsical as well as consumer-related products and systems. The junior year design education includes traditional machine design courses, stress and fatigue analysis, design of machine components, and design labs. And finally, the senior year design education includes a thermo-sciences related course, as well as the capstone design course. The capstone design course was modified to its present 3-quarter long format in order to make it more effective, to afford students a chance to experience a complete design-build-test process, and to continue with our tradition of industrially sponsored projects.

The approach we have adopted for many years has been to train students in the creative design process earlier, even before they have learned stress analysis or mechanical design. In this manner, as they take their design engineering courses, they can incorporate creativity and other aspects of the design process in their projects.


Cal Poly’s tradition of learn-by-doing is decades old. Our programs, throughout the University, are known for their hands-on approach, lab-oriented education, and design projects. The Mechanical Engineering program is a leading proponent of this approach.

Our hands-on, learn-by-doing philosophy is implemented throughout our curriculum, from introductory classes to the graduate program. Most of our mid- and upper division classes have a lab associated with them. We also emphasize projects, whether design or analysis, in most classes, and we provide opportunities for students to engage in many extracurricular projects.

Recently, there was a series of discussions held on campus related to the differences between learn-by-doing and project-based learning. Most faculty involved in these discussions agreed that although these two philosophies share many attributes, and even though they are both very legitimate ways of approaching education, the learn-by-doing philosophy is more encompassing. For example, both pedagogies do involve projects; however, learn-by-doing can be accomplished in many ways other than just projects. For example, a laboratory experiment may or may not be a project. Playing in an orchestra is not a project, but involves learning by doing (the practice of what the individual will do

Niku, S., & Owen, F. (2009, June), Design Education At Cal Poly: Why We Do What We Do Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4853

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