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Using the Maker Concept to Promote Multidisciplinary Skills in a Freshman Engineering Program

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Efforts in Introductory Courses

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

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Paper Authors


Nicholas A Baine P.E. Grand Valley State University

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Nicholas Baine, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering. His expertise is in the design of electrical control systems and sensor data fusion. As an instructor, he specializes in teaching freshman courses as well as control systems and design of digital and embedded systems. While at Wright State University, he was part of the group which developed a new model to teach mathematics to engineering students. As a new faculty member at Grand Valley State University, he is working with faculty to develop and improve the relatively new freshman design courses.

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Huihui Qi Grand Valley State University

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Dr. Qi is an assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering at Grand Valley State University. She earned her Ph.D degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rutgers University. Dr. Qi’s teaching interests include Engineering Design, Solid Mechanics, Mechanical System Design and Computer Aided Design. Dr. Qi’s areas of interest and expertise include design sustainability, Life Cycle Assessment, decision making for optimal design, and Computer Aided Design.

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This paper addresses the lack of student interest in topics outside of their discipline; this is even true for some students in all courses regardless of topic. However, all topics, especially fundamental ones are important in an engineering education because engineers are facing increasingly complex challenges and opportunities; consequently, collaboration between engineers of multiple disciplines becomes very important. ABET goes as far as to list “an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams” as a required student outcome for an undergraduate engineering program to be accredited. Engineering curriculums are somewhat designed to address this, but they often emphasize multidisciplinary teams at the end of the program in a senior design class. However, this develops the mentality in students that there will always be someone else to do the part that they are not comfortable with. As a result, engineering students have a tendency to lack comfort in cross-disciplinary topics (topics outside of their chosen discipline), despite taking fundamental courses in such topics.

All engineers specialize as they progress through their education and their career; however, many find that they are never comfortable with the fundamentals of cross-disciplinary topics. For example, mechanical engineers often receive some basic training in circuits and are somewhat competent in the area, but they are never truly comfortable enough in the area to exercise that knowledge professionally. They doubt themselves or see little value in correcting such a knowledge deficit.

This paper presents the results of a survey, which shows that this issue starts in the freshman year. At that point, all of the students are relatively the same; they have taken the same classes. Somehow they presort themselves and tend to devalue various topics being taught to them. This perceived lack of value that is placed on topics leads to a lack in motivation to learn some topics. There is a lot of research showing the dramatic effect that motivation can have on learning. It is important that students of all engineering disciplines understand the value of a broad multi-disciplinary knowledge base in their future career as an engineer.

This paper will propose a solution to this problem through the use of the Makerspace Concept in a freshman design course. The Maker approach encourages people to understand how things work, to experiment, invent and redesign things through multiple iterations, to democratize and understand processes of engineering, science, and innovation, and to commercialize new products by developing and testing prototypes quickly and in a cost-effective manner. Making frequently takes place in social contexts, often called Maker spaces, where collaborators, mentors, advisors, and others can be found.

The goal will be to integrate the Maker approach into freshman engineering curriculum, to emphasize the multi-disciplinary nature of real-world engineering projects. Students will get an idea of what it is like to work on a project that has elements from multiple disciplines and witness first-hand what knowledge they lack as they first attempt a project that they are not equipped to solve. Then, in the Maker Style, the students will be motivated to “seek” the knowledge that they lack. After learning various topics such as programming and Computer Aided Design (CAD), the students will be better equipped to make a second attempt on the project. In doing this, they will have the opportunity to “tinker” and get comfortable with topics that they would not otherwise be motivated to learn. The desired end result is for students with the Maker Experience to show an increase in confidence in their cross-disciplinary knowledge.

Baine, N. A., & Qi, H. (2016, June), Using the Maker Concept to Promote Multidisciplinary Skills in a Freshman Engineering Program Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27169

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