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Engaging First Year Students In Engineering Design Through Engineers Without Borders

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Design in Freshman and Sophomore Courses

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.494.1 - 13.494.12



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Paper Authors


Susan Masten McMaster University

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Susan Masten is the Director of the First Year Engineering program in the Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University, Hamilton, ON. Her responsibilities include supervising staff and instructors in the ENG1 Program, curriculum development, and planning and implementing programs to enhance retention. She is also a Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and is a registered professional engineer in the State of Michigan. She has her Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Harvard University and is co-author of the textbook, Principles of Environmental Engineering and Science (McGraw-Hill).

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Robert Fleisig McMaster University

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Robert Fleisig is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and with the Level 1 Engineering Program at McMaster University, Hamilton, ON. He has a B.A.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Waterloo and M.Eng. and Ph.D. degrees from McMaster University. His research interests lie in the field of engineering design, particularly with respect to the early stages of the product design process.

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

Engaging First Year Students in Engineering Design through Engineers Without Borders Projects


It is important that first year engineering students learn that the engineering design process involves more than mathematics and physics. To accomplish this, students choose design projects from a variety of disciplines, developed with Engineers Without Borders (Canada) and situated in either a developing country or a remote area of Canada. All projects required, not only a technical solution, but also consideration of ethics, health and safety, economics, and impact on the community. Among the design projects were a rain-water harvesting system and ceramic water filter for villagers in Cambodia and a press for extracting oil and producing biodiesel fuel from seeds of the Jatropha shrub, which grows in West Africa. The impact of this approach on student satisfaction and success is discussed.


A central focus of engineering education is the design process. Our goal as engineering educators is to ensure that graduating engineers have the ability to “design effective solutions that meet societal needs” 1. Traditionally, engineering education is built on a foundation of sciences and mathematics courses, with students taking engineering courses in their upper years, with few students experiencing design outside of a focused course in their discipline. In the 1990’s, in response to accreditation criteria, most engineering schools added a “capstone” design project in the final year. These projects are meant to be complex, have a “real world” flavor, and are often multi-disciplinary. In some cases, there are industrial sponsors and students work closely with practicing engineers.

As engineering education has evolved in the last decade, the concept of a “cornerstone” or first- year engineering design project has been added. The goal of these projects is to give students early exposure to the engineering profession2-4, the engineering design process5, and the diversity of engineering disciplines; all while keeping their excitement, enthusiasm, and enjoyment levels high.

Teaching first-year students about the engineering approach to problem-solving and design provides them with a framework within which to apply core scientific knowledge and mathematical skills they are acquiring in other courses. As part of our Introduction to Professional Engineering course, small groups of students work together on design projects. Students choose from a set of topics that reflect the diverse engineering disciplines within our faculty. The project descriptions were developed in collaboration with Engineers Without Borders (Canada) and are set in either a developing country or a remote area of Canada. In addition to the technical aspects of the engineering design, the final reports and presentations address considerations such as ethics, healthy and safety, economics, and impact on the community. Design projects included, for example, a rain-water harvesting system, a ceramic water filter, a seed press to extract oil, and a process for converting seed oil into biodiesel fuel in communities such as Lehkbooan, Cambodia and Changnayili, Ghana.

Masten, S., & Fleisig, R. (2008, June), Engaging First Year Students In Engineering Design Through Engineers Without Borders Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4219

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