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From Cornerstone to Capstone: Students’ Design Thinking and Problem Solving

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Design Mental Frameworks

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Kaylee A Dunnigan NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering

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Kaylee Dunnigan is a fourth-year undergraduate student working towards her B.S. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. They are the head of research and development for the Introduction to Engineering and Design at Tandon. In this position they develop semester long design projects for students, hands-on labs, as well as mentor students throughout these projects. They have worked previously at Sandia National Labs Advanced Materials Labs, Cornell University, and the University of New Mexico.

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Amy Dunford New York University Tandon School of Engineering

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Amy K. Dunford is the Manager of the Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) Program at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Amy earned an M.S. in Engineering Education from Purdue University and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Irvine. Amy specializes in project-based learning management and curriculum development, and has prior experience as a first-year engineering instructor.

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Jack Bringardner NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering Orcid 16x16

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Jack Bringardner is the Assistant Dean for Academic and Curricular Affairs at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. He is also an Assistant Professor in the General Engineering Department and Civil Engineering Department where he teaches the First-Year Engineering Program course Introduction to Engineering and Design. He is the Director of Vertically Integrated Projects at NYU. His Vertically Integrated Projects course is on Smart Cities Technology with a focus on transportation. His primary focus is developing curriculum, mentoring students, and engineering education research, particularly for project-based curriculum, first-year engineering, and transportation. He is active in the American Society for Engineering Education and is the Webmaster for the ASEE First-Year Programs Division and the First-Year Engineering Experience Conference. He is affiliated with the Transportation Engineering program in the NYU Civil and Urban Engineering Department. He is the advisor for NYU student chapter of the Institute for Transportation Engineers.

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This research paper will assess the impacts of engineering projects over the typical four to five years in an undergraduate degree. The results will focus on the ability of students’ design-thinking and problem-solving skills. Engineering design projects require optimized solutions to be creative, feasible, economic, sustainable, and technically accurate. User needs drive design thinking to be an iterative process with a focus on several different facets of design. It is assumed that experiencing multiple design projects throughout their coursework improves the design self-efficacy of engineering students. Engineering projects provide an opportunity for STEM students to participate in hands-on and active learning, which isn’t available in a typical lecture-based course. These projects are expected to scaffold students to expert level engineering thinking. This will allow them to solve real world problems from the projects they are participating in and become better design thinkers throughout their undergraduate education. Alternatively, industry professionals find the skill of decision making and real-world problem solving as essential to what engineers do in the field. Projects often offer instructor independent learning and studying. Examining the impact of project-based courses on design self-efficacy throughout the completion of an undergraduate degree can indicate the best type of coursework to help students think like experts. This study showcases alternative project-based teaching methods and how they contribute to preparing undergraduate engineering students for industry-design projects. At [a large 4 year University] all engineering students take a semester-long course focusing on developing design skills across engineering disciplines. These students are typically in their first year, and the cornerstone course hosts around 300 students a semester. During their coursework at this school students also have the option to participate in Vertically Integrated Projects (VIPs) where they focus on solving specific engineering problems and developing unique projects as a large multi-disciplinary team. There are 29 VIP teams with over 250 students participating in them. All teams have students from multiple academic years. Undergraduates then typically finish their last year taking a capstone design project-based course, but these courses are specific to their major with less focus on multi-disciplinary teams. Students will be surveyed from the first-year cornerstone course, the VIP Program, and the capstone design courses in order to determine if and how their design thinking ability changes with the number and types of project-based courses that they have completed. The courses discussed above, any engineering course that has a project worth more than 20% of their grade, and any club that students spent more than one hour a week working on a project will be considered as a project experience. This survey will include a question that requires an engineering design solution. The students will then complete a design canvas and a previously peer-reviewed design self-efficacy tool. The design canvas will be assessed based on students’ creativity, decision-making ability, and what fundamental concepts they considered in their design. Using the design self-efficacy tool students will evaluate their own design thinking process and consider where they excelled and struggled during the process. These results will show how and what kind of projects have an impact on the development of design thinking abilities on undergraduate students.

Dunnigan, K. A., & Dunford, A., & Bringardner, J. (2020, June), From Cornerstone to Capstone: Students’ Design Thinking and Problem Solving Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34693

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