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Integrating Real World Experience Into A College Curriculum Using A Multidisciplinary Design Minor

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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

Multidisciplinary Design in the Classroom

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.766.1 - 14.766.10



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Paper Authors

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Jessica Brakora University of Michigan

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Brian Gilchrist University of Michigan

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James Holloway University of Michigan

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Nilton Renno University of Michigan

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Steven Skerlos University of Michigan

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Toby Teory University of Michigan

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Peter Washabaugh University of Michigan

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Daryl Weinert University of Michigan

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

Integrating Real-World Experience in to a College Curriculum Using a Multidisciplinary Design Minor


The real world offers tremendous challenges and numerous opportunities for our engineering students after they complete their formal undergraduate education. Many of these challenges are intrinsically multidisciplinary and require work across the boundaries of traditional educational programs. Too often engineering programs fail to mirror this reality, but instead stovepipe student experiences along disciplinary boundaries (often excluding non-engineers entirely) and fail to provide the touchstone of reality that comes from actually implementing a design.

Many of us have seen or been involved with successes of students working in teams to accomplish sophisticated design challenges. Some examples from the University of Michigan include developing small spacecraft, water filtration techniques for remote villages using indigenous resources, the design and fabrication of a solar car to race for thousands of miles across North America and Australia, developing an aid to alleviate a physical impairment, or tools and resources for non-profit organizations. These and other activities engage students in significant multi-semester technical and organizational efforts that create tremendously valuable experiences and that send them out in the world both wiser and better leaders at levels not possible by “book learning” alone. The challenge this presents is how to effectively integrate the multidisciplinary design-build-test experience, with traditional educational programs.

The University of Michigan College of Engineering is addressing this challenge by implementing a new minor in multidisciplinary design (MD Minor). This initiative is intended to curricularize and expand the impact of our successful design team activities that have historically operated largely independently of the classroom. It is one part of a broader initiative to create exciting opportunities for our students that also includes strong co-curricular programs in entrepreneurial and international experiences. The goal we strive for is to have our students graduate with significant experiences that better prepare them for professional life in a multidisciplinary world. Here, we give a status report of our efforts to implement the MD Minor.

Details of the MD Minor include the following requirements: (1) an introductory design-build- test (DBT) activity, (2) a cornerstone course that serves to prepare the student in depth for his or her multi-semester design project, (3) a multi-semester, multidisciplinary DBT project, and (4) involvement in mentorship and/or leadership experiences. In total, there are 15 credit hours required to earn the MD Minor. The reasons for these specific requirements and our experiences in fitting this into the curriculum at Michigan’s College of Engineering will be presented.


Our engineering profession is finding increasing pressure to respond to urgent societal challenges of significant complexity in a world of increasing population, decreasing natural resources, and ever growing concerns for environmental sustainability. Add to this, the growing availability of increasingly sophisticated technologies for design problems both simple and complex. Preparing

Brakora, J., & Gilchrist, B., & Holloway, J., & Renno, N., & Skerlos, S., & Teory, T., & Washabaugh, P., & Weinert, D. (2009, June), Integrating Real World Experience Into A College Curriculum Using A Multidisciplinary Design Minor Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5773

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