Asee peer logo

Invitation to Excellence: Design Challenges in Low Resource Settings for Student Recruitment

Download Paper |


2021 First-Year Engineering Experience



Publication Date

August 9, 2021

Start Date

August 9, 2021

End Date

August 21, 2021

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Carolyn Skurla Baylor University

visit author page

Carolyn Skurla is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Baylor University. She received a B.S. in Biomedical Science from Texas A&M University and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University.

visit author page


Joseph Anthony Donndelinger Baylor University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Mr. Donndelinger joined Baylor University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science as a Clinical Associate Professor after 23 years of experience in the automotive and cutting tool industries. During his 16 years as a Senior Researcher at General Motors’ Global Research and Development Center, Mr. Donndelinger served as Principal Investigator on 18 industry-university collaborative projects focusing primarily on conducting interdisciplinary design feasibility assessments across the engineering, marketing, finance and manufacturing domains. Prior to this, he held positions in New Product Development at Ford Motor Company and Onsrud Cutter. He currently serves as lead instructor for the Baylor Engineering Capstone Design program and teaches additional courses in the areas of Engineering Design, Technology Entrepreneurship, and Professional Development. Mr. Donndelinger has published three book chapters in addition to 30 articles in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings and has been awarded two United States patents. Mr. Donndelinger earned an M.S. in Industrial Engineering and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Baylor University holds weekend-long Invitation to Excellence (I2E) events to recruit high-achieving high school seniors. The Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) hosts multiple breakout sessions during I2E events. Each prospective engineering student attends one of these sessions during the I2E event.

In the ME breakout session, students are assigned to teams of three or four for a design challenge. Each team receives 60 drinking straws plus one yard of duct tape and must build a structure to support a stack of course catalogs over a wooden block. Teams are allowed 20 minutes for design and construction, after which they load their structures until one of the course catalogs either falls to the floor or contacts the wooden block. The activity concludes with sharing of reflections on the design experience and recognition for the winning team.

Recently, we have begun providing teams with tools (i.e., tape measures and scissors) to use during the design challenge. Anecdotally, we observed that some teams spent excessive amounts of time using the tools to measure and cut straws while failing to completely build their structures. In the November 2019 and January 2020 I2E events, we explore3 this phenomenon by using half of our ME breakout sessions as control groups (receiving only supplies) and the other half as experimental groups (receiving both supplies and tools). Our reported findings will include analyses of differences observed between control and experimental groups both in performance of structures and in variety of design concepts. Our initial hypothesis was that the addition of tools would adversely impact the teams' abilities to design and build structures that on average were as strong as the teams who were not supplied with tools.

With the COVID-19 global pandemic, we were tasked with providing a virtual design experience using Zoom sessions. We will also provide a discussion of the individual design challenges that involved building a bridge from 1/2 sheet of paper that spanned the opening of a coffee mug and held as much ballast (in the form of coins) as possible without failing.

Skurla, C., & Donndelinger, J. A. (2021, August), Invitation to Excellence: Design Challenges in Low Resource Settings for Student Recruitment Paper presented at 2021 First-Year Engineering Experience, Virtual .

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: © 2021 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