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Techniques For Advising Undergraduate Students On Senior Engineering Design Projects

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.437.1 - 1.437.6

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Paper Authors

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Aaron R. Byerley

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Edward M. O'Brien

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

-— --- . . . . . . Session 1275 .

— ‘Techniques for Advising Undergraduate Students on Senior Engineering Design Projects

Aaron R. Byerley, Edward M. O’Brien Mercer University


The objective of this paper is to describe techniques that will help new faculty members (or faculty members new to teaching design) be more effective as advisors to undergraduate students working on senior engineering design projects. While senior students may be highly creative and motivated and possess the engineering science background required to make good design decisions, they often need help in bringing structure to their effort. Even though much progress has been made at Mercer recently in integrating design within the engineering science curriculum, students still have difficulty applying their engineering science understanding to the task of making good design decisions. This is particularly true when the project is multidisciplinary and the functional requirements include those that are difficult to quantify. Often, the student’s experience with the aspect of design methodology dealing with feasibility and merit analysis has been limited to classroom exercises. When an actual device must be designed, built, and tested, and the students must interface with a real client (which are both features of Mercer University’s design course sequence), the use of decision analysis tools becomes much more complicated than simulated problems used in academic exercises. All of this means that the students need help in pulling the engineering science and design methodology together in an environment made even more challenging by budget and time constraints. This paper describes several techniques that the authors have found effective in their experience as advisors of numerous senior engineering design projects. These techniques serve as mechanisms to aid in “coaching” or “mentoring” the students through the design process. The authors believe that they have found an effective balance between helping the students structure their efforts while still allowing the students to make and learn from their mistakes.

I. Introduction-- Understanding the Challenges

The Mercer University School of Engineering has a two-quarter senior capstone design sequence. The purpose of this sequence is to have the students integrate their engineering science knowledge with design methodology, decision analysis, and project management. This can be very challenging for the students. The open-ended nature of a substantive design project presents special problems for students who have spent most of their time and energy in engineering science courses which have emphasized analysis. Recent progress in spreading design across the curriculum has helped to remind students how analysis can be used to predict a system’s performance. Unfortunately, it is difficult for the students to be competent without a fair amount of structure while they are simultaneously trying to learn fundamentals. Therefore, the scope of the “open-endedness” of a meaningful senior design project is much greater than what they have seen before. This is desirable since typical design challenges for which the students are being prepared

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Byerley, A. R., & O'Brien, E. M. (1996, June), Techniques For Advising Undergraduate Students On Senior Engineering Design Projects Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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