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Teaching Systems Thinking in a Capstone Mechatronic Design Course

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division: Capstone Design Projects

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Mark David Bedillion Carnegie Mellon University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Bedillion received the BS degree in 1998, the MS degree in 2001, and the PhD degree in 2005, all from the mechanical engineering department of Carnegie Mellon University. After a seven year career in the hard disk drive industry, Dr. Bedillion was on the faculty of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology for over 5 years before joining Carnegie Mellon as a Teaching Faculty in 2016. Dr. Bedillion's research interests include distributed manipulation, control applications in data storage, control applications in manufacturing, and STEM education.

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Marsha Lovett Carnegie Mellon University

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Dr. Marsha Lovett is Associate Vice Provost of Teaching Innovation, Director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, and Teaching Professor of Psychology -- all at Carnegie Mellon University. She applies theoretical and empirical principles from learning science research to improve teaching and learning. She has published more than fifty articles in this area, co-authored the book How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, and developed several innovative, educational technologies, including StatTutor and the Learning Dashboard.

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Karim Heinz Muci-Kuchler South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

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Dr. Karim Muci-Küchler is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Experimental and Computational Mechanics Laboratory at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T). Before joining SDSM&T, he was an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Detroit Mercy. He received his Ph.D. in Engineering Mechanics from Iowa State University in 1992. His main interest areas include Computational Mechanics, Solid Mechanics, and Product Design and Development. He has taught several different courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, has over 50 publications, is co-author of one book, and has done consulting for industry in Mexico and the US. He can be reached at

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Cassandra M. Degen South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Cassandra Degen received her B.S. degree in Metallurgical Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 2007. She received her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering in 2012 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying mechanochemical reactions of a spiropyran mechanophore in polymeric materials under shear loading. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering department at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology where her research interests include novel manufacturing and characterization techniques of polymer and composite structures and the incorporation of multifunctionality by inducing desired responses to mechanical loading.

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Engineers involved in product design and development have been facing a clear trend towards the integration of multiple subsystems into existing and new devices. Sensors, actuators, and processors are now ubiquitous components in design, which has led to the rise of mechatronics engineering and subsequent curriculum changes in conventional disciplines such as mechanical engineering. Moreover, along with the expansion of technical knowledge requirements, the trend towards greater product complexity brings with it an increased need for students to learn and apply holistic, systems-level approaches to design problems. This paper describes the effects of infusing systems thinking concepts into a capstone mechatronic design course for mechanical engineers.

Given the importance of systems thinking skills, there has been much prior work on infusing the undergraduate curriculum in traditional disciplines with basic systems thinking and systems engineering concepts. This work expands on prior efforts by the authors that introduced systems thinking concepts to sophomore mechanical engineering students. While sophomore-level students can gain an understanding about conceptual design, their analytical skills are generally not refined enough to understand the connections between conceptual and detail design activities. For senior students, these connections can be made more explicit, ideally increasing student interest in topics that they may incorrectly perceive as less relevant than technical courses focusing only on analysis.

This work focuses on training mechanical engineering undergraduate students in the following product development activities: identifying customer needs, setting target specifications, concept generation, and system architecture. Case studies originally developed for sophomore students are adapted for use with senior students by illustrating the impact of each of the selected product development activities in the analysis that takes place during detailed design. By including a brief analysis example, the aim is to better engage senior students by showing the connection between design and analysis activities while increasing students' appreciation of the life-long learning that is required in the engineering profession.

The intervention’s effectiveness is gauged by measuring changes in students' systems thinking skills via a concept inventory, studying changes in students' self-efficacy, and surveying students on the appeal of the new learning materials. Results are presented for a class of 37 students that features a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. The graduate students form a particularly interesting cohort in that they have presumably previously taken a conventional capstone design course.

Bedillion, M. D., & Lovett, M., & Muci-Kuchler, K. H., & Degen, C. M. (2019, June), Teaching Systems Thinking in a Capstone Mechatronic Design Course Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33355

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