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Integrating Innovation into Engineering Education

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Trends in Mechanical Engineering I

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.908.1 - 22.908.7



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Paper Authors


Matthew Spenko Illinois Institute of Technology

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Matthew Spenko is an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Department at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Prof. Spenko earned the B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Northwestern University in 1999 and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001 and 2005 respectively. He was an Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Scholar in the Center for Design Research, Mechanical Engineering Department, at Stanford University from 2005 to 2007. His research is in the general area of robotics with specific attention to designing for, understanding, and exploiting the dynamics of mobile systems in the context of challenging environments. He focuses on biologically-inspired locomotion, novel vehicle designs, and robot-terrain interaction. He is a member of IEEE and ASME and an associate editor of the Journal of Field Robotics.

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Jamal S. Yagoobi Illinois Institute of Technology

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Jamal Yagoobi is a faculty member of the Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering Department at Illinois Institute of Technology.

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In 2009 and 2010, the Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Department at the Illinois Insti-tute of Technology held two workshops entitled: “Integrating Innovation into Engineering Edu-cation.” The workshops were part of the Illinois Coalition for Manufacturing Innovation, whichis sponsored by the Small Business Administration and includes Argonne National Laboratory,Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and the Chicago Manufacturing Center. The main goal wasto investigate how innovative thinking can be taught in undergraduate engineering curricula, witha specific focus on the mechanical engineering curriculum. Representatives from thirteen univer-sities, Argonne National Laboratories, NSF, and two companies convened to discuss the topic insmall groups settings followed by a conversation with all participants.1 The outcomes of thesediscussions are presented in this paper. Three questions were asked of the members during their discussions. 1. What defines innovation in the context of engineering? Specifically, what are the hallmarks of an innovative engineering approach, process, design, or product? 2. What skill sets are necessary for innovative thinking? 3. How can we, as educators, teach those skill sets in order to foster the innovative thought process? There were several key points in regards to identifying innovation in the context of engineering.These included the concepts that innovation is an implementation of creativity, it inherently trans-formative (i.e. it addresses a need in some novel way that also brings value), and that it ultimatelyresults in the ability to bypass an engineering trade-off while exhibiting some level of elegance. In regards to the second question, the participants recognized several key skills that may leadto innovative thinking. Most notably, a student must be open-minded, curious, and not afraid ofrejection. This leads to three other considerations. First, the open-minded thought process mustbe capable of being channeled in a clearly defined, realistic, and understandable goal. Second, itis the role of the institution to provide a culture that is supportive and accepting of a wide range ofideas. Last, a student that has a broader set of experiences has a greater capability for innovation.Thus, there is a distinct role for the “renaissance” engineer, or the engineer who may not possessa deep understanding of one subject, but rather a moderate understanding of several areas. Not allstudents can fill this role, but it is important to recognize which ones can and cultivate this skilland thought process. To answer how innovation can be taught, the participants started with the premise that all en-gineering students posses some level of creativity. Several ideas were proposed, including theintroduction of non-engineering subjects taught to emphasize how engineering relates to busi-ness, public policy, and psychology (human interaction design); the use of specialized physicalspace; curriculum changes; and teaching techniques designed to foster an open-minded and non-judgmental environment. In summary, these workshops served to help formulate several important topics on which edu-cators can focus. This paper will introduce these results and comment on how they can be imple-mented in the classroom. 1 Different organizations were represented each year. 1

Spenko, M., & Yagoobi, J. S. (2011, June), Integrating Innovation into Engineering Education Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18231

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