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Multidisciplinary Approach to the First Year Engineering Design Project

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Design in Multidisciplinary Learning Environment

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

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Monica A. Mellini P.E. Montgomery College Orcid 16x16

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Monica Mellini is a registered professional engineer and has been a full-time faculty member Montgomery College since 2012, where her current title is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics. She serves as a Level 5 student advisor and member of the Germantown counseling cadre. In her professional life, Monica has had several life changing experiences which have shaped her academic and professional directions. Monica is a doctoral student at Virginia Tech in the interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology, and Society. At home, she studies genealogy, which has led to some fascinating discoveries and her decision to change her name to align with the preponderance of her family history.

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Our College is a minority serving community college in a large metropolitan area which is the academic home of several thousand STEM students, many of whom will transfer into baccalaureate degree programs in engineering, computer science, the sciences, and technology fields. In the first two years of college, and particularly under conditions of uncertainty and material problems precipitated by a pandemic, STEM students face barriers to attainment of educational and career goals. First-year STEM students may not feel a sense of “belonging” in their chosen major or may not have even selected a program of study. Second year students face a “critical juncture” as they approach transfer to a 4-year school. At this point, many STEM students change majors or leave higher education altogether. Engineering education research points to feelings of isolation as contributing factors to lack of persistence in the engineering major (Johnson & Sheppard, 2004; Packard, et al, 2011; Reyes, 2011). One way to promote persistence among students who have selected STEM is to assist individual students in developing a professional identity. Professional identity development is the process of “becoming” a practitioner, including the reconciliation of professional identity with one’s other identities (such as gender and cultural identification). An effective path toward assimilating a professional identity is participation in the STEM community and in the performance of work that is authentic to professional practice. All engineering students and many other STEM majors at Our College take a freshman level course called “Introduction to Engineering Design.” Like similar courses in virtually every engineering curriculum, this course features development of fluency in engineering vocabulary, an introduction to some of the technology tools of engineering, and a project-based learning approach featuring a strong teamwork component. The course helps to promote professional identity development by exposing students to authentic engineering practice. A weakness of such a course is lack of a multidisciplinary presentation of engineering. Rather, engineering is presented as the employment of a set of skills centered around technology tools. By incorporating features of liberal education into the first engineering course, the resulting engineering practice demands attention to critical thinking in conjunction with the application of technical skills. This paper presents the author’s experience of incorporating historical, social, political, and economic lenses into the introductory engineering course by assigning team projects to address challenges of COVID-19 in refugee camps. The project assignment will provoke questions such as: § Does this make sense? § How is this going to work? § What assumptions are embedded in the solution imaginary? § How much data will this generate? § Who will monitor, collect, and process the data? § What follow-up actions will be triggered? The assignment promotes development of a mindset to deal with uncertainty while facing complex contemporary problems. Students are challenged to consider more than just the mechanical or electronic design aspects of their project but must also think about how technologies will be used in a particular social and cultural setting, and how their solution will scale up to a population of many thousands of people. Multidisciplinary Approach to the First Year Engineering Design Project References Johnson, M. J., and Sheppard, S. D. (2004) "Relationships Between Engineering Student and Faculty Demographics and Stakeholders Working to Affect Change*." Journal of Engineering Education 93.2: 139. Packard, B. W. L., Gagnon, J. L., LaBelle, O., Jeffers, K., & Lynn, E. (2011). Women's experiences in the STEM community college transfer pathway. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 17(2). Reyes, M. E. (2011). Unique challenges for women of color in STEM transferring from community colleges to universities. Harvard Educational Review, 81(2), 241-263

Mellini, M. A. (2021, July), Multidisciplinary Approach to the First Year Engineering Design Project Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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