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Designing A Senior Experience In Mechanical Engineering: Culmination Of An Undergraduate Program, Preparation For Professional Life, And Reinforcing The Foundation For Continued Learning

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.342.1 - 6.342.10

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Paper Authors

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Ann Anderson

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Richard Wilk

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

Session 1566

Designing a Senior Experience in Mechanical Engineering: Culmination of an Undergraduate Program, Preparation for Professional Life, and Reinforcing the Foundation for Continued Learning

Richard D. Wilk and Ann M. Anderson Mechanical Engineering Department Union College Schenectady, NY


The senior experience in an undergraduate engineering program should accomplish at least three main objectives: to serve as a culmination of the undergraduate program, to prepare students to begin their professional life and to ensure that students are on a path of life-long learning. The first objective must include synthesis and application of knowledge acquired in the first three years of the program, namely application of advanced analysis techniques to design. The second objective involves exploration of important issues needed to prepare graduates for professional practice and/or graduate school. The third objective needs to instill student confidence in their ability to learn on their own. The mechanical engineering program at Union College accomplishes these goals through four complementary components of the senior year curriculum: (1) a required two term senior research/design project, (2) required capstone design courses in mechanical systems and thermal-fluid systems, (3) a required weekly senior seminar program, and (4) upper level elective courses. This paper explains these aspects of the curriculum along with the rationale and motivation for their development and provides several examples of the content of each of these components.


Union College is a private, predominantly undergraduate institution with principal focus on curricula in liberal arts and engineering. The mechanical engineering program is one of four engineering programs at Union College. In the early 1990’s mechanical engineering and the other engineering programs at Union College undertook a major effort to design an engineering curriculum for the 21st century. This was done with the help of a major grant from the GE Foundation (now GE Fund). Most of this effort was directed at taking advantage of the existing strengths of the technical side of the program and capitalizing on the fact that engineering is taught in a liberal arts environment at an institution with a strong international component in the curriculum. Therefore it is well-positioned to produce broadly educated engineers for the global engineering community of the 21st century. In the new mechanical engineering program there is a strong emphasis on fundamentals in both thermal/fluids and mechanics. This is reinforced by significant hands-on laboratory and design experiences in each of these areas. Communication skills and design are reinforced and practiced across the curriculum. As a college committed to liberal education, Union requires that a substantial part of each student’s education be devoted to study outside the area of the major. This is attained through a General Education Curriculum that adds breadth of learning to the expertise acquired in the major. In addition, all students are

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Anderson, A., & Wilk, R. (2001, June), Designing A Senior Experience In Mechanical Engineering: Culmination Of An Undergraduate Program, Preparation For Professional Life, And Reinforcing The Foundation For Continued Learning Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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