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Overcoming The Hurdles Associated With Industry Sponsorship Of Multidisciplinary, Project Based Learning

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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

Multidisciplinary Teams

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1140.1 - 12.1140.10

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Paper Authors


Robert Crockett California Polytechnic State University

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Robert Crockett received his Ph.D. from University of Arizona in Materials Science and Engineering. He holds an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from University of California, Berkeley. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Dr. Crockett is a specialist in technology development and commercialization of advanced materials and manufacturing processes. Prior to joining Cal Poly, he was founder and President of Xeragen, Inc., a San Luis Obispo-based biotechnology startup company. He has also served as an Assistant Professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering and was employed by McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Company, where he was a lead engineer and Principal Investigator on projects to develop technology evolution plans for the Space Station.

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Jon Whited St. Jude Medical

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Jon Whited graduated from San Diego State University with a BS in Engineering Management. He is currently Manager, University Relations and Recruiting for
St. Jude Medical, Cardiac Rhythm Management Division. He has worked as a Software Test Manager and Systems Test Manager for General Electric Space Systems and as Manager of Software Product Assurance for TRW’s military space programs. Mr. Whited has developed engineering recruiting programs with universities through Co-Op programs, Sr. Projects, offering students the opportunity to take St. Jude Medical e-learning classes in clinical applications for engineers, and providing jobs on campus as University Associates to work on St. Jude Medical projects.

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Daniel Walsh California Polytechnic State University

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Daniel Walsh is currently Department Chair for Biomedical and General Engineering, and Professor of Materials Engineering at the College of Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He received his B.S. (Biomedical Engineering), M.S. (Biomedical Engineering) and Ph.D. (Materials Engineering) degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Prior to joining Cal Poly, Dr. Walsh was employed by General Dynamics Corporation, as a principal engineer and group leader in the Materials Division.

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

Overcoming the Hurdles Associated with Industry Sponsorship of Multidisciplinary, Project-Based Learning


As engineering education at the undergraduate level continues to evolve, the support structure required for techniques such as Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is expanding to include not only the Department, College, and University levels, but also significant commitments from industrial partners. Through our experience in developing an Industry/University Consortium for biomedical device companies, we believe that industry provides an enabling means for framing Problem-Based Learning within a Multidisciplinary, Project-Based context that exposes engineering students, working in teams across multiple disciplines, to meaningful, real-world challenges. Industry provides the project topics and technical mentors, while projects are self- selected by students based upon a match with their background skills and educational goals. While the benefits are clear, there are a number of challenges in establishing and maintaining the deep level of required industrial interaction (which goes far beyond the traditional dollar-based definition of “sponsorship”). This paper discusses the hurdles that we have overcome, including Intellectual Property ownership policies, developing an infrastructure that allows for simultaneous work on the confidential projects of competing companies, buy-in from faculty in multiple departments, and the critical need for champions in the university and at each company. The paper concludes with a case study that illustrates the typical project-based learning “pipeline” in this model, whereby an engineering student forms an expanding relationship with a company and a multidisciplinary team through early, simple projects, progressing through an on- site industrial CO-OP and culminating with a team Senior Project or Masters Thesis.

Problem-Based Learning within a Multidisciplinary, Industrial Project-Based Context

California Polytechnic State University has an earned reputation as a proponent of the hands-on, laboratory-based, learn-by-doing approach to education. We have also won a reputation as a college whose students are steeped in open-ended problems and underpinned by an understanding of design and the process of design. As part of our newly-created Biomedical & General Engineering Department, it was our goal to implement Problem Based Learning (PBL) within a larger, industry project-based context. Based on our experience with industry as a key partner in establishing a new program and department, we approached industry sponsorship from a broader perspective than the traditional dollar-based definition. We see industry as providing an enabling set of resources for a growing curricular program: a source of truly multidisciplinary project topics, technical mentors, and supporting infrastructure that expose engineering students, working in teams across multiple disciplines, to meaningful, real-world challenges.

PBL has been defined as “learning which results from the process of working towards the understanding of, or resolution of, a problem.”1 PBL has been an extremely successful model for medical education: over 80% of medical schools currently use some form of Problem-Based Learning2. Although primarily applied to the biological sciences to date, PBL is an appropriate methodology for technology education3; our experiences with multidisciplinary student teams working on industry-provided challenges in a Problem-Based Learning environment confirm

Crockett, R., & Whited, J., & Walsh, D. (2007, June), Overcoming The Hurdles Associated With Industry Sponsorship Of Multidisciplinary, Project Based Learning Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii.

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