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Developing Design Skills in an Introductory Mechanics of Solids Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Architectural Division Technical Session 1

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Paper Authors


Edward M. Segal Hofstra University

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Dr. Edward M. Segal is an Assistant Professor in the Engineering Department at Hofstra University.

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Sigrid Adriaenssens Princeton University

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One challenge architectural engineering and civil engineering departments face while preparing their students for the global workforce is including design projects that tackle real world problems, in an already full academic curriculum. In this paper, an approach to helping students develop structural engineering design skills in an introductory level solid mechanics class is described. This approach includes three components: (i) a process book, (ii) a design workshop, and (iii) a post-design workshop critique. These components are distributed throughout the semester and integrated with the course material to create an extended project that focuses on understanding and redesigning the Sabrina Footbridge. The specific design skills that students learn and practice include sketching, problem scoping, brainstorming, generating and evaluating alternative schemes, and critique. Additionally, through this project students contextualize their understanding of the fundamental principles of solid mechanics. The merit of this project is that students can successfully learn design skills in an existing introductory engineering course.

In their process books, students sketch, problem scope, brainstorm, and generate and evaluate design alternatives through a series of prescribed assignments. Through supplemental entries, students incorporate their own ideas and relate them to the primary course content. The process of design is emphasized by encouraging students to reflect on and revise their work. At the end of the semester, the students synthesize the skills that they practiced in their process books in a final set of group design workshop exercises. These exercises are complemented by desk critiques and talks given by external practicing engineers. The talks focus on the engineers’ individual design processes and include reflections and discussions of constraints, sketching, calculating, communication with owners and clients, construction (economy and techniques) and the successes and failures along the way. The desk critiques give the students an opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback on their designs from practicing engineers that provide greater perspective on how design decisions influence public safety, economy, aesthetics, etc. (items the students have been grappling with all semester). Following the workshop the students write self and peer critiques of the evolved designs.

In an anonymous end of semester survey, 65% of the Fall 2013 students responded that following this entire design experience they are more motivated to pursue a career in engineering. Students acknowledged that there was more to learn, but they reflected positively on the practical and creative experience gained through this project and they are looking forward to continuing in engineering.

Segal, E. M., & Adriaenssens, S. (2016, June), Developing Design Skills in an Introductory Mechanics of Solids Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26752

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