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Mechanical Engineering For Middle School Students: An Overview Of The Mechanical Engineering Portion Of Mst At Msu

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Outstanding Contributions to ME

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1047.1 - 12.1047.19



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Paper Authors


Jeffrey Rhoads Michigan State University

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Jeffrey F. Rhoads is a Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. To date, he has taught in the areas of mechanical engineering analysis and mechanical design. Mr. Rhoads’ research interests include the nonlinear behavior of dynamical systems and the predictive design and analysis of resonant microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). He received his B.S. in 2002 and his M.S. in 2004, both in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University. He is presently seeking a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the same institution.

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Craig Somerton Michigan State University

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Craig W. Somerton is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He teaches in the area of thermal engineering including thermodynamics, heat transfer, and thermal design. Dr. Somerton has research interests in computer design of thermal systems, transport phenomena in porous media, and application of continuous quality improvement principles to engineering education. He received his B.S. in 1976, his M.S. in 1979, and his Ph.D. in 1982, all in engineering from UCLA.

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Brian Olson Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

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Brian J. Olson received the B.S. (1999), M.S. (2001), and Ph.D. (2006) degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan State University. He is currently a senior staff engineer in the Air and Missile Defense Department of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. His research interests include nonlinear dynamics and vibrations, application of stability and bifurcation theories to engineering systems, design of vibration absorbers, rotating flexible structures, coupled oscillators with cyclic symmetry, and vehicle dynamics. He is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and also the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).

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Terry Ballinger Lansing Catholic High School

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Terry L. Ballinger is a Chemistry and Math Teacher at Lansing Catholic High School. Mr. Ballinger received a B.S. in 1981 from Central Michigan University with a chemistry major and math minor. He has been an active participant in hands-on science workshops including AIMS, Operation Physics, LEAD, and the U of M Biological Station.

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

Mechanical Engineering for Middle School Students: An Overview of the Mechanical Engineering Portion of MST at MSU


Mathematics, Science, and Technology at Michigan State University (MST at MSU) is a two week long introduction to advanced science and technology for academically-gifted middle school students. Though the program consists of a number of academic courses, a cornerstone of this program, and the focus of the present work, is a short course in mechanical engineering, which is presently in its ninth year of existence. This course is intended to expose the students to the fundamentals of mechanical engineering, as well as a variety of practical engineering problems related to the field. Though portions of this program were previously presented to the ASEE in 2000, the program has undergone a significant evolution since the initial report (completed after the first year of the course). As such, the present work contains a comprehensive overview of the current program’s curriculum, organization, and, where instructional, evolution. As a whole, the work is intended to serve as a template for future mechanical engineering pre-college programs.

1 Introduction

Mathematics, Science, and Technology at Michigan State University (MST at MSU) is a two week long residential program with the stated purpose of introducing high-achieving middle school stu- dents with technical interests to a variety of scientific and technical disciplines (ranging from as- tronomy to zoology) and university life in general. Though the program has evolved significantly since its creation, a lasting cornerstone of the program’s curriculum has been a short course in mechanical engineering. This course, which is taught by a representative of the mechanical engi- neering department (a faculty member or doctoral candidate) in conjunction with a local secondary school educator, is intended to introduce the fundamentals of mechanical engineering in an infor- mative, yet approachable, manner.

Structurally, the mechanical engineering course is divided into ten two-hour academic units, each of which includes a brief technical lecture (approximately twenty minutes in length), a variety of hands-on demonstrations, and a competitive group project of a design-build-test nature. The course’s curriculum presently consists of three distinct sections: (i) mechanical system sciences, (ii) thermal-fluid sciences, and (iii) design and manufacturing. Modules in the mechanical system section place particular emphasis on the basics of mechanics, namely statics, dynamics, and me- chanical vibration, as well as on simple electromechanical systems (e.g. motors and speakers) and feedback control. The thermal-fluid modules stress the basic principles of work/energy, heat trans- fer, and aerodynamics, and the design modules include discussions of structural design and modern manufacturing. While this curriculum may be akin to that found in many pre-college engineer- ing programs, distinguishing traits include the program’s emphasis on hands-on, design-build-test projects and the emphasis the program puts on modern and past global engineering accomplish- ments (and occasionally instructive failures), as well as on ‘cutting-edge’ technologies likely to see broad implementation at approximately the same time the students will enter the technical work

Rhoads, J., & Somerton, C., & Olson, B., & Ballinger, T. (2007, June), Mechanical Engineering For Middle School Students: An Overview Of The Mechanical Engineering Portion Of Mst At Msu Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1541

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: © 2007 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