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Integrating 'Design Challenges' into a Freshman Introduction to Mechanical Engineering Course

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education (DEED) Engineering Poster Session

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.768.1 - 23.768.11



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Paper Authors


Gerald Sullivan Virginia Military Institute

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Dr. Gerald Sullivan is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Virginia Military Institute. He earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Vermont and his Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He has held teaching positions at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and at the University of Vermont. Prior to joining the faculty at the Virginia Military Institute in 2004, he was employed by JMAR Inc. where he was involved in research and development of X-ray lithography systems for the semiconductor industry. His interests include mechanical design, acoustics applications and controls.

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Jon-Michael Hardin P.E. Virginia Military Institute

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Dr. Jon-Michael Hardin is a professor and head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Virginia Military Institute. He received his Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His interests include mechanical design and engineering education.

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Integrating ‘Design Challenges’ into a Freshman Introduction to Mechanical Engineering CourseAmongst their required courses in calculus, chemistry and the humanities, most freshmenengineering students take part in some form of course which serves as an introduction toengineering. In many engineering schools this “Intro to Electrical, Mechanical or CivilEngineering” course is worth only a single credit with students viewing it as the least importantcourse on their schedule. In Mechanical Engineering departments a typical strategy for teachingthe introductory course involves labs and demonstrations from each of the main branches of themechanical engineering discipline, (e.g. thermal sciences, mechanical systems). Necessarilysimple and short in duration, these lab/demo experiences are not always the top priority of theprofessors that teach them, and as such it is common to see these labs and demons remainunchanged for years at a time. Sadly, the potential benefits that an introductory course couldprovide to students are often unrealized. One of these benefits is the opportunity to beginteaching students the design process as early as possible. Numerous benefits can be derivedthrough providing freshmen engineering students the foundation of the design process as theunderpinning for their engineering education, such as increased retention, increased motivation,and improved learning. A focus on the design process can be introduced into a freshmanIntroduction to Engineering course through the integration of ‘design challenges’ within thatcourse. At the University of X, a small residential state institution in the south, the Department ofMechanical Engineering has integrated low cost ‘design challenges’ into the Introduction toMechanical Engineering course, replacing some of the labs and demos offered in the past, in thehope that these design-based learning experiences, introduced to students at the onset of theirengineering education, would improve the retention, motivation, and learning of MechanicalEngineering students.In this paper the authors will discuss the specific details of two ‘design challenges’ that consist ofcollaborative problem-based active learning experiences in which students design, build, and testa solution to a practical engineering problem. For example, one of the design challenges posedthis year was for the students to design, build, and test a leaf-blower powered hover craft over aperiod of three weeks with class meetings once a week.Of course, the purpose of this work is to determine whether the inclusion of design challengesinto the curriculum of the introductory mechanical engineering course causes a statisticallysignificant increase in the retention of mechanical engineering freshmen. Therefore, the authorswill also present their analysis of retention data through a comparison, using a t-test, of retentiondata gathered over the last five years to the retention data of students who took part in the designchallenge experiences. In addition, the authors will discuss the results of a brief Likert scale-based questionnaire, completed by students in the revamped Intro to ME course, that measuresstudents’ subjective enjoyment of each lab or design challenge experience. This data will be usedto determine whether there is a statistically significant difference between the “designchallenges” and conventional labs with respect to students’ enjoyment and motivation.

Sullivan, G., & Hardin, J. (2013, June), Integrating 'Design Challenges' into a Freshman Introduction to Mechanical Engineering Course Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19782

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