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Incorporating Design Into Introductory Statics And Strength Of Materials Courses

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Design in the Engineering Core

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.653.1 - 7.653.15



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Paper Authors

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Mark Palmer

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Incorporating Design into Introductory Statics and Strength of Materials Courses Mark A. Palmer1, Eric Sandgren2, Robert A. Heinz3 1 Kettering University / 2Virginia Commonwealth University / 3J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College


The design of rigid permanent structures, statics, is the most basic of engineering concepts. We believe it is also the place to introduce first year students to design and the broader issues of engineering, and by doing so excite students in all engineering disciplines. We have developed an introductory engineering course based on statics. This course begins by introducing the students to the fundamental physics of statics equilibrium and culminates with the students being able to design a simple structure. To make this course successful we adopted the philosophy "Involve me and I'll not only learn but understand and remember". Such involvement requires emphasizing oral, written, and visual communication. In the beginning of the course, the physical laws are demonstrated by self directed laboratories. During the middle of the course, students optimize a truss using a spreadsheet. The course culminates with a project where the students using a special form of the Tresca Criterion can select a material and its dimensions for a design. This also means they can be introduced to the business consequences of their decision. In this paper we will discuss the evolution of this course during the last three years, the innovative course content, the innovative teaching techniques employed, the dynamics among the instructors, and how we applied what was learned in the Strength of Materials course.


Background First year engineering students typically have no idea of what engineers do, or what engineering is. Therefore there is a need to introduce students to engineering early in their undergraduate experience so that we can: retain good students, allow students to make intelligent choices about their choice of major, and improve the educational experience. The purpose of engineering education is well described by the words of Stephen van Rensselaer, the founder of the first civilian engineering college :“...instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life"1. To effectively apply scientific principles to the common purposes of life, one needs design experience, communication skills, in addition to a sound technical foundation in engineering. Employers have identified the following characteristics as required of successful engineers, strong technical capability, persuasion and communication skills in a variety of media, the ability to lead or work as a team member, and a thorough understanding of the non-technical issues that affect engineering decisions. John Kucharzki - CEO of EG&G, when speaking to the American Society for Engineering Education raised these issues in his 1997 plenary address. He indicated that he as a CEO and potential employer, wants engineers to have the non-technical skills listed above, but does not want technical competence to be sacrificed. This requirement from industry is important to consider in light of recent demands to reduce the number of courses required of engineering students.

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Palmer, M. (2002, June), Incorporating Design Into Introductory Statics And Strength Of Materials Courses Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10987

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