Asee peer logo

Equipping Engineering Undergraduate College Students with the Tools Needed to Transition from Solving Textbook Problems to Real-world, Industry Projects

Download Paper |


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

College-Industry Partnerships Division Technical Session I: Students

Tagged Division

College Industry Partnerships

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Niranjan Hemant Desai Purdue University North Central

visit author page

Name: Dr Niranjan Desai
Ph.D Civil Engineering
University of Louisville, USA

MES (Master of Engineering Studies) Civil Engineering
University of Sydney, Australia

BTECH (Bachelor of Technology)
Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, India.

Work Experience:
Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Purdue University North Central (2013 - Present)

Engineering Intern, Watrous Associates Architects, (2011 - 2013)

Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant, University of Louisville, (2006 - 2011)
Tata Bluescope Steel Ltd
Designation: Design Manager

Desai, N., & McGinley, W.M. "A study of the out-of-plane performance of brick veneer wall systems in medium rise buildings under seismic loads." Engineering Structures 48 (2013) 683 694.

Desai, N., & McGinley, W.M. "Effects of brick veneer wall systems loaded in-plane on the seismic response of medium rise buildings." Proc. The 12th Canadian Masonry Symposium, Vancouver, Canada, June 2013.

Alan H. Yorkdale Memorial Award, 2014.

visit author page


George Stefanek Purdue University, North Central

visit author page

Ph.D. Electrical Engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology

M.S. BioEngineering, University of Illinois at Chicago

B.S. Purdue University

visit author page

Download Paper |



Undergraduate engineering programs at American universities are highly theory-focused. It is essential to have a rigorous understanding of the theoretical concepts to master one’s chosen field. On the job, this theoretical background is beneficial while working on projects because it enables an engineer to understand what is happening from a conceptual viewpoint. This is necessary to produce an optimum engineering product, and also to feel a sense of satisfaction in one’s work. It gives an engineer a sense of security, trust and confidence in the approach used to solve the problem. It provides an engineer with a reservoir of knowledge that can be accessed when confronted by unfamiliar and challenging problems. It helps understand the inner workings of the software packages being used, to interpret the results, and to ascertain whether the software is functioning properly. Also, some problems are better solved using hand-calculations, instead of a software package, making a strong grasp of the theory mandatory. Finally, the process of mastering theory and solving textbook problems builds an engineer’s analytical thinking skills, which can then be applied toward solving real-world problems.

Despite the benefits of a theory-intensive undergraduate engineering curriculum, there exists one significant drawback: fresh graduates are unskilled at the process involved in representing real-world systems as idealized models that can be subsequently analyzed using theoretical engineering textbook principles. They are unfamiliar with defining a system (the known and unknown quantities, boundary conditions, etc.), and the assumptions made while doing so. This conclusion is based upon feedback received from employers and freshly graduated engineers.

The Capstone Project attempts to fill in the void between theory and practice. However, based upon feedback from fresh engineering graduates, it does not perform an optimum job of doing so. For this reason, this paper presents an innovative course that would attempt to fill this gap between theory and practice, and teach engineering students in the final semester of their senior year the thought-process involved in developing idealized models of real-world systems. Briefly, the course involves a weekly presentation by a practicing engineer from the industry, preferably working in a company in the geographical vicinity of the college. The visiting engineer describes a personally completed project, including details of the steps involved in defining the real-world system’s idealized model while having only a limited amount of information about the actual system (which is typical of industry projects), the pros and cons of choices that were made during the modeling process with respect to the cost (in terms of money, time, and effort), reliability and safety of the final product, and the assumptions used. Engineers from different companies are encouraged to visit, to expose the students to the approaches followed in different companies. This would serve the additional benefit of providing the students with an opportunity to interact directly with potential future employers and develop a network.

Desai, N. H., & Stefanek, G. (2016, June), Equipping Engineering Undergraduate College Students with the Tools Needed to Transition from Solving Textbook Problems to Real-world, Industry Projects Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26731

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015