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Extending Systems Thinking Skills to an Introductory Mechanical Engineering Course

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

SED Technical Session: Systems Thinking

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Karim Heinz Muci-Kuchler South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

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Dr. Karim Muci-Küchler is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Experimental and Computational Mechanics Laboratory at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T). Before joining SDSM&T, he was an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Detroit Mercy. He received his Ph.D. in Engineering Mechanics from Iowa State University in 1992. His main interest areas include Computational Mechanics, Solid Mechanics, and Product Design and Development. He has taught several different courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, has over 50 publications, is co-author of one book, and has done consulting for industry in Mexico and the US. He can be reached at

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Cassandra M. Degen South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Cassandra Degen received her B.S. degree in Metallurgical Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 2007. She received her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering in 2012 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying mechanochemical reactions of a spiropyran mechanophore in polymeric materials under shear loading. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering department at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology where her research interests include novel manufacturing and characterization techniques of polymer and composite structures and the incorporation of multifunctionality by inducing desired responses to mechanical loading.

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Mark David Bedillion Carnegie Mellon University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Bedillion received the BS degree in 1998, the MS degree in 2001, and the PhD degree in 2005, all from the mechanical engineering department of Carnegie Mellon University. After a seven year career in the hard disk drive industry, Dr. Bedillion was on the faculty of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology for over 5 years before joining Carnegie Mellon as a Teaching Faculty in 2016. Dr. Bedillion's research interests include distributed manipulation, control applications in data storage, control applications in manufacturing, and STEM education.

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Marsha Lovett Carnegie Mellon University

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Dr. Marsha Lovett is Associate Vice Provost of Teaching Innovation, Director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, and Teaching Professor of Psychology -- all at Carnegie Mellon University. She applies theoretical and empirical principles from learning science research to improve teaching and learning. She has published more than fifty articles in this area, co-authored the book How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, and developed several innovative, educational technologies, including StatTutor and the Learning Dashboard.

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Despite a widespread acknowledgement of the importance of systems thinking and systems engineering, most undergraduate programs in mechanical engineering do not formally instruct students in those subjects. While producing graduates ready to fill the role of a systems engineer is not realistic, it is feasible to train mechanical engineering graduates that can successfully participate in the development of a complex product or system.

Prior work aimed at developing and implementing materials appropriate for teaching selected systems thinking topics to sophomore-level mechanical engineering students showed that teaching systems thinking skills in the context of a single course is difficult. Thus, gradually developing those skills throughout the entire curriculum is a more desirable strategy. By selecting level-appropriate topics and knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs), the pedagogy for teaching systems thinking skills is much like the one used for other fundamental subjects in mechanical engineering: starting at a lower level, building upon concepts each semester, and finally applying all the knowledge gained in the context of a senior capstone design experience.

The work presented in this paper focuses on selecting systems thinking topics and their appropriate cognitive level for an existing freshman-level introduction to mechanical engineering course. In addition, it discusses the proposed approach to add the selected topics to the course, which has two main components: 1) to provide a high level overview of the product development process that can serve as a framework for introducing systems thinking concepts, and 2) to illustrate systems thinking concepts using examples that are of interest to students and are a good fit for other topics that have to be covered in the course. Finally, results from a systems thinking skills survey implemented as pre- and post-tests in the unmodified course are presented to highlight the potential impact of the proposed intervention.

Muci-Kuchler, K. H., & Degen, C. M., & Bedillion, M. D., & Lovett, M. (2019, June), Extending Systems Thinking Skills to an Introductory Mechanical Engineering Course Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32826

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