Asee peer logo

Integrating Design Thinking into an Experiential Learning Course for Freshman Engineering Students

Download Paper |


2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Integrating Experiential Learning into the Curriculum

Tagged Division

Cooperative and Experiential Education

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Mark J. Povinelli Syracuse University

visit author page

Dr. Mark Povinelli is the Kenneth A. and Mary Ann Shaw Professor of Practice in Entrepreneurial Leadership in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University where he is developing and teaching curriculum in innovation and entrepreneurship. Dr. Povinelli current research interests and curriculum development are in experiential team learning approaches to engineering education focused on design thinking and innovation as a basis for building entrepreneurial/business skill sets in undergraduate and graduate students. In particular he is investigating ways in which collaborative multidisciplinary team based student learning across traditional department, school, and college boundaries can enhance student educational outcomes. Dr. Povinelli has extensive professional engineering leadership experience at Texas Instruments, General Electric, and Lockheed Martin in the research, development, and production of airborne radar and EW systems including on the F-22 Raptor and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye programs. He is recognized as having significantly contributed to the research and development of wideband phased array antennas and 3-D computer-aided design electromagnetic simulation tools. In addition he has been a partner in several small business start-ups providing innovation and management leadership. He is the father of three grown children and has lived in central New York since 1985.

visit author page


Jonnell A. Robinson Syracuse University

visit author page

Jonnell Robinson is an Assistant Professor of Geography and the Director of the Syracuse Community Geography Program at Syracuse University.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Through a first semester course we gave incoming freshman a multidisciplinary experiential learning opportunity that introduced them to the design thinking (DT) process. We did this by creating a course that was a collaboration between the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS), the Department of Geography in the Maxwell School of Public Citizenship, and the City of Syracuse’s Office of Innovation looking at the aging sewer and storm water system. We found there was mutual benefit in engaging in a collaborative process in which the students used their engineering skills (prototype, test, collect data and analyze a real world problem) and the city was provided actionable data. This course suggests a model in which the DT process can be taught in experiential learning settings that are collaborative with local municipalities and introduce the students to aging city infrastructure problems in the United States. We believe it is critical to begin tying in the real world experiences in the engineering learning process and provide a design process starting in the freshman year.

The specific problem we were trying to address was three fold: first to understand if freshman engineering students could generate real world actionable infrastructure data for the municipality, secondly could they do this in a way that introduced them to DT process using empathy as a starting point, and thirdly could they work in multidisciplinary teams and engage in a collaborative process with multiple partners. The specific problem the students addressed was measuring and mapping the aging sewer and storm water infrastructure in the Eastwood neighborhood of Syracuse, New York.

The class consisted of 51 incoming freshman honors students from across the ECS were formed into 12 multidisciplinary teams. They were instructed in the DT process starting with empathizing and considering the ethical considerations of the end-users (residents of the Eastwood neighborhood) and stakeholders which included the City of Syracuse, the City of Syracuse’s Office of Innovation, Onondaga County Department of Water Environment Protection (WEP), and the Maxwell School of Public Citizenship. The city and WEP provide instruction of the historical and current state of the neighborhood resident’s flooded basements and streets, aging infrastructure, and use of GPS measurement equipment. The students then engaged in discussing, empathizing, and considering the ethical implications faced by city residents with an aging sewer and storm water infrastructure. Students created prototype tools, did field measurements and then participated in class reflections on team dynamics, prototype tool effectiveness and measurement methodologies.

The students provided actionable data to the city in the form of an accurate GPS maps and statistics of 80% of the Eastwood neighborhood infrastructure. They engaged in dialogue with the neighborhood residents and were able to empathize with the stakeholders and end-users. The implications of this course are that there are mutually beneficial partnerships that could be formed between engineering colleges and municipalities across the country looking at aging infrastructure. These partnerships have the potential to engage students in learning about a challenging engineering problem we face in the 21st century.

Povinelli, M. J., & Robinson, J. A. (2018, June), Integrating Design Thinking into an Experiential Learning Course for Freshman Engineering Students Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30681

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015