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Project Based Learning As A Catalyst For Academic Evolution And As An Incubator For Academic Innovation

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Design Constituents

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1010.1 - 13.1010.9



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Paper Authors


Daniel Walsh California Polytechnic State University

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Daniel Walsh is currently Associate Dean 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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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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Zahed Sheikholeslami California Polytechnic State University

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

Project Based Learning as a Catalyst for Academic Evolution and as an Incubator for Academic Innovation


As engineering education at the undergraduate level continues to evolve, the support structure required for educational approaches such as Project-Based Learning (PBL) is expanding to include not only the Department, College, and University levels, but also significant commitments from industrial partners. While the benefits of project based learning approaches are clear, there are a number of challenges in establishing and maintaining the deep level of institutional and industrial interaction required to create a successful program.

This paper discusses several approaches adopted by the Project Based Learning Institute (PBLI) in developing project-centered relationships with external organizations. PBLI serves as an academic incubator that has been used to overcome institutional inertia by creating a structure that lies outside existing well-established “territories”. It discusses the self supporting nature of the approach, which allows resource issues which typically shackle initiatives to be obviated. It describes how the program has developed into a catalyst for industry participation that benefits both students and corporate sponsors. It describes the how the juxtaposition of high-potential faculty, coupled with incentives for multi-disciplinary faculty collaboration, embellished by more effective access vehicles for industry to university resources, and a more effective mechanism to uncover and respond to industry needs, leads to the development of an educational outcome that provides for an engineering graduate who is steeped in multidisciplinarity, who is exceptionally team-oriented and who is able to function in today’s complex environment.


Preparing the engineering workforce for both public and private sectors is a significant task in the face of the intensifying global competition. Engineers of tomorrow must be able to work in an increasingly interconnected world with a diverse group of colleagues from dispersed geographical locations. The ability to solve real problems facing businesses hinges on a multi- disciplinary education enriched by general skills in teamwork, communication and project management. The PBLI is underpinned by the principle that durable, robust, sustainable partnerships between faculty, students and industry are beneficial to each stakeholder.

The California Polytechnic State University College of Engineering Strategic Plan states that: “The mission of the College of Engineering is to be a flagship college of engineering that benefits humanity by educating socially responsible engineers inspired for life-long learning using an innovative learn by doing philosophy in partnership with industry and other stakeholders.” PBLI is consistent with this mission because it promotes the use of a multi- disciplinary, participatory, learn by doing, “hands-on” laboratory, project and design centered approach. The PBLI enhances educational outcomes for students in accordance with the strategic plan, it enhances the professional development of the faculty in conformance with the strategic plan, by encouraging and supporting expansion of faculty research and by provide appropriate

Walsh, D., & Crockett, R., & Sheikholeslami, Z. (2008, June), Project Based Learning As A Catalyst For Academic Evolution And As An Incubator For Academic Innovation Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4077

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