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Inside The Design Challenge: Motivating Students Through The Design Process

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Aerospace Workspace: Current and Future 1

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Page Count


Page Numbers

14.741.1 - 14.741.12



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Paper Authors


Debbie Mullins Texas Space Grant Consortium

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Debbie Mullins has a been a Higher Education Program Coordinator for the Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC) since 1999. She was instrumental in designing the features of TSGC's flagship higher education program: The TSGC Design Challenge Program in 2002 and has been responsible for managing the program since its inception.

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Wallace Fowler University of Texas, Austin

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Wallace Fowler is the Paul D. & Betty Robertson Meek Centennial Professor in Engineering and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He was the 2000-2001 President of ASEE. His teaching and research focus on space mission planning and spacecraft design. He is co-author of Statics and Dynamics textbooks with Dr. Anthony Bedford.

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


Introduction: A paper entitled The NASA/Texas Space Grant Consortium Design Challenge Program: A Systems Engineering Educational Program 1 was presented at the 2008 ASEE meeting in Pittsburgh, which provided a general overview of Texas Space Grant Consortium’s (TSGC) flagship higher education program. The Program model was developed by the authors in an effort to improve student design team accountability while at the same time encouraging a higher level of motivation among the Design Challenge (TDC) participants. This paper will focus on the methods used by the Program to motivate students through the design process that at the same provide a level of accountability to program administrators. Anecdotal comments provided via program evaluations and surveys have provided the basis for the conclusions presented in this paper.

Background: Sponsored as a NASA Workforce Development Initiative since 2002, the Design Challenge Program (TDC) remains a unique academic experience that exposes undergraduate students to space-related problems and careers as they work toward solving a NASA mission-relevant design objective. Participating students work as part of an engineering design team under the guidance of a faculty advisor and alongside a dedicated workplace mentor to solve a “real- world” problem identified and provided by NASA. Over the course of one or two semesters, each team simultaneously secures funding for their individual project and satisfies course credit required for graduation.

The opportunity to engage in substantive student research is the hallmark of the program’s effort to encourage and prolong student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related academic studies and careers. A measure of success is assured for all participants using TDC methods that guide and motivate student teams through each phase of project development.

The program accomplishes this by providing resources that are directly tied to the successful completion of required milestones called “Levels” and optional opportunities called “Option Areas.” Guidelines and awards attached to milestone deliverables provide schedule structure, motivation, instruction, and funding to the team as design projects mature from the preliminary idea-stage to a sound design solution. Graduate student peer reviews complement academic and technical guidance provided by both faculty and project mentors/customers. The semester culminates with a professional-style conference, called the Design Challenge Showcase, which provides each team with a platform for presenting their work to an audience of peers, NASA mentors and members of the academic community.

Monetary resources earned by the student teams are minimal by most funding standards, but adequate to allow for project supply procurement and model building. Supplemental grants support off-campus travel and collaboration opportunities within the community-at-large, provide funds to support more advanced second-semester model or prototype construction, and

Mullins, D., & Fowler, W. (2009, June), Inside The Design Challenge: Motivating Students Through The Design Process Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5370

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