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"Thinking Outside The Book" Or "Why My Students Want To Be Called Big Drips"

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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

ERM Potpourri

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.2.1 - 13.2.12

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Paper Authors


Amy Miller University of Pittsburgh -Johnstown

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Amy Miller is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. She earned a M.S. degree from University of Pittsburgh, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering Technology from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. She joined the faculty at UPJ in 1992 after 10 years with a leading manufacturer of railroad freight cars. During her time in industry, she served as a Design Engineer, Manager of Design Engineering, and Manager of Engineering.

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

“Thinking Outside the Book” or “Why My Students want to be Called Big Drips” Amy L. Miller University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown


An often-ignored sector of engineering and engineering technology education is the application of “book learning” to “real life” situations. The practice of engineering often requires insight, assumptions, and a merger of disciplines, three things difficult to teach in a classroom. Traditionally, while an instructor may do a wonderful job of teaching course material, it is difficult and time consuming to provide students with an understanding of the challenges of practical application.

Sometime around a student’s sophomore or junior year, they realize that engineering is not an exact science. Conditions surrounding the choice of theories and/or equations are often the most difficult to judge. During their academic studies, they are helped in the decision-making by the sectioning of material but once they begin their professional career they suffer from doubt, uncertainty and the loss of the answers in the back of the book. The challenge then for engineering and engineering technology professors is in preparing students to apply classroom material to “real life” situations while still supplying them with the essential fundamentals.

This paper discusses a class assignment that inspires students to think outside the book. Students are asked to find real life examples of the theories and equations learned throughout the course and to present them to the class. For junior level courses, the topics are broad and often something of personal interest. For senior level classes, the students are to talk to practicing engineers to find actual case studies. In all instances, the topics presented, utilize course theories and/or equations. Working in teams students prepare reports and “fun” presentations to be given to their peers. In a class wide competition, the winners are awarded a trophy and given the auspicious title of “The Big Drip” for Fluid Mechanics and “The Great Gear Head” for Machine Design.


Upon graduation, young engineers are faced with the challenge of applying classroom lessons to real-life applications. The challenges faced in industry can involve problem identification, equation selection, and mixed subject material. To an employer who hires a young engineer, there persists a learning curve. This, accompanied by a common lack of confidence, can delay the transition period from student-engineer to practicing–engineer. The sooner the new hire can overcome the aforementioned obstacles the sooner they become an asset to their company. It is a challenging task of the professor to guide students and encourage them to applying scholastic material by thinking outside of the textbooks.

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