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Making it Real: Scaling up Interdisciplinary Design to Model Real-World Engineering Entrepreneurship

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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

The Best of Design in Engineering

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1037.1 - 22.1037.19



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Paper Authors


Eckehard Doerry Northern Arizona University

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Eck Doerry is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Northern Arizona University. His research interests fall within the broad area on “Groupware support for Online Groups,” with active research in portal-based tools to support distributed scientific communities, groupware tools to support small, distributed engineering design teams, and distance education tools and environments. He has been a long-time advocate of realistic, interdisciplinary team design projects as a key element in engineering education, and has been managing advanced project teams in the Design4Practice program at NAU for nearly ten years.

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Bridget N. Bero Northern Arizona University

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Bridget N. Bero is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, Construction Management and Environmental Engineering at Northern Arizona University, where she has been since 1995. Her primary interests are engineering pedagogy, including ethics and design in engineering curricula, tribal environmental training programs, forest waste utilization, environmental management systems and international engineering.

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Making it Real: Scaling up Interdisciplinary Design to Model Real-World Engineering EntrepreneurshipIn all but the largest companies, engineering has always been an inherently interdisciplinarypractice: multiple engineering disciplines must collaborate effectively with each other and withother disciplinary experts (marketing, accounting, sales) to deliver products and services toclients. Effective collaboration and productivity in an interdisciplinary team, however, requiresunique organization and communication skills, in addition to the disciplinary technicalcompetencies that are the focus of traditional engineering curricula. Many engineering programshave responded to this need by incorporating interdisciplinary design experiences into their corecurricula; our own institution had been a leader in this area, introducing an innovativeinterdisciplinary curriculum spanning all engineering disciplines in the late 1990s.Although the efficacy of such programs in preparing graduates for real-world practice has beenshown to be impressive, our experience has also revealed a number of shortcomings, including: • Engineering skills that are too immature early in the curriculum to undertake meaningful interdisciplinary projects. • Difficulty of identifying, organizing, and coordinating interdisciplinary projects at the senior/graduate level. • Failure to integrate non-engineering disciplines, in particular business (marketing, sales, accounting), often leading to engineering solutions that are technically feasible, but not marketable or cost-effective.This paper reports on iCubed, a year-long pilot project undertaken to explore what it would taketo design and deliver an advanced highly-interdisciplinary design experience modeled on real-world entrepreneurial design. The iCubed project was implemented at the senior/graduate level,and brought together a team of 31 students from seven distinct disciplinary areas including alltraditional engineering disciplines (mechanical, electrical, chemical, civil), computer science,architecture, and the business disciplines. The team was explicitly organized around the modelof a small engineering company, with the goal of developing a market concept (includingspecification, design, and prototyping) for a compact, fully-automated biodiesel production unitfor small communities or individuals. Details of the design (scale, materials, chemical process,nature of feedstocks) were specifically left open; as in the real world, these facets would beinvestigated by the team, with decisions driven by market economics. Ultimately, the team’sgoal was to produce a working prototype along with a complete, compelling business plancapable of drawing the venture capital needed to develop the design into a commercial product.In this paper, we describe the iCubed project in detail: project planning, assessment strategiesimplemented, organization and monitoring of the student team, and project and assessmentoutcomes. Our summary of lessons learned and pitfalls encountered with iCubed is then used asthe basis for a discussion of broader pedagogical themes, including planning for massivelymultidisciplinary project experiences, models for organizing collaborating interdisciplinaryfaculty supervising such courses, models for structuring large interdisciplinary student teams.We close with an outline of our resulting plans for incorporating multidisciplinary real-worldentrepreneurial design experiences of this sort into our curriculum in upcoming years.

Doerry, E., & Bero, B. N. (2011, June), Making it Real: Scaling up Interdisciplinary Design to Model Real-World Engineering Entrepreneurship Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18318

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