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Multidisciplinary Engineering Student Projects

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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

Multidisciplinary Technical Session

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1090.1 - 22.1090.7



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Paper Authors


Matthew Dettman P.E. Western Kentucky University

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Mr. Dettman is the James D. Scott Professor of Civil Engineering at Western Kentucky University and his primary areas of interest are in Geotechnical Engineering and Construction Quality Control. He has been named the Civil Engineering Educator of the Year in the state of Kentucky, won the Ogden College award for Public Service, and currently serves on the Kentucky Governors Council for Earthquake Risk Reduction.

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Walter L. Collett Western Kentucky University

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Walter L.Collett received the B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Tennessee Technological University in 1990 and 1992, and the Ph.D. degree in Engineering from TTU in 1999. From 1999 until 2004, he was employed by Square D Company / Schneider Electric in Nashville, Tennessee, where he served as a senior electrical engineer, then as an engineering manager. He is currently an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. His research interests involve computational electromagnetics, application of electromagnetics to the analysis and design of electromechanical devices, and photonics.

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Multidisciplinary Engineering Student ProjectsThe role of the engineer in today’s world is changing and expanding. Buildings and roads arebecoming “smart”, construction equipment communicates with satellites thousands of milesaway while moving soil, surveyors now use lasers instead of tape measures, and the list goes on.The line between engineering disciplines still exists, but is growing faint and less defined. TheCivil, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineering programs are attempting to find ways to bring thedisciplines together on student projects. The motivation behind these efforts is to reinforce thefact that all engineers are problem solvers and, when working together, different types ofengineers can develop common solutions. Part of the challenge of cross disciplinary projects isovercoming the fear of the lack of understanding of what others engineers actually do. Bybringing students from multiple disciplines together on a single project, these barriers can beminimized, allowing students who were formerly segregated by classes to work together as acohesive unit to solve a problem.During the 2009-2010 academic year, students from the Electrical Engineering program workedwith a Civil Engineering Capstone Design team on the latter’s senior project. The project wasthe design and construction of a concrete canoe that incorporated a robotic concrete etchingdevice to improve the aesthetics of the canoe without impacting its structural integrity. Duringthe year long project, team meetings were held, requiring the students from each discipline towork together, share information, understand what the others were doing, and ultimatelycomplete the project successfully. Upon completion, students were asked to reflect on theirexperience and what they gained from it. The results indicated that across the board, studentsenjoyed the experience, were interested in learning about the types of things the other disciplinesdid, and were overall less intimidated about working with others in different disciplines.While it is difficult to move outside of the disciplinary barriers in the academic environment andstill maintain compliance with ABET accreditation standards and other constraints that exist ineach discipline, opportunities do exist and should be explored to help students see past thoseboundaries. Our early experience with multidisciplinary projects indicates that if some of theintimidation of working with students in other disciplines on projects slightly out of their comfortzone is removed, their willingness and ability to do this after graduation is enhanced. In the2010-2011 academic year, multidisciplinary projects will again be used in the Capstoneexperience. Furthermore, we are beginning a common freshman engineering course for alldisciplines which we hope will create more opportunities for these types of projects in the future.

Dettman, M., & Collett, W. L. (2011, June), Multidisciplinary Engineering Student Projects Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18899

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