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Work in Progress: Leveraging the Diverse Backgrounds of Community College Students to Teach Team-based, Multidisciplinary Engineering

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

First-year Programs Division Postcard Session 2: Identity and Sense of Belonging

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


David R. Ely Ivy Tech Community College, Lafayette

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Dr. David R. Ely is the Engineering Program Chair at Ivy Tech Community College Lafayette since 2013. He enjoys teaching engineering students at Ivy Tech and advising them on the different engineering career paths that best match their interests and skill sets. Dr. Ely received his B.S. in Physics from Houghton College in 2002 followed by his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutics from Purdue University in 2010, where he researched granular materials. In 2008, he was awarded the Merck Research Laboratories Fellowship in Chemistry, Pharmaceutical Science, Material Science, and Engineering. After receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Ely conducted postdoctoral research in Duesseldorf, Germany at the Heinrich-Heine University where he extended current dissolution models to predict nano-particle dissolution kinetics. Upon returning to the States, he worked as a postdoctoral research assistant at the School of Materials Engineering at Purdue University where he spent two and one-half years modeling high performance electrochemical systems with complex microstructures including and beyond Li-ion chemistries at the atomistic, mesoscale, and continuum levels in order to develop a comprehensive theoretical and numerical multiscale strategy to accelerate the battery design process. He has presented his work nationally and internationally and has publications in several peer-reviewed journals. Currently, he is investigating the kinetics of nanoparticle dissolution at the mesocontinuum level using the phase field method. The goal is to develop a comprehensive, theoretical and numerical strategy to predict the dissolution kinetics of small particles from experimentally measurable parameters to accelerate the particle engineering process during formulation development. Example applications include researching the effects of engineered particle size distributions in solid dosage forms such as solid crystal suspensions as well as the nucleation and growth of particles during crystallization processes.

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Jason E. Bice Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Jason Bice obtained his BSME at the University of Florida in 2015 and obtained his MSMSE at Purdue University in 2017. Currently, he is in Boston, MA to obtain his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering.

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Kendra A. Erk Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Prof. Kendra A. Erk is an Associate Professor in the School of Materials Engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

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This Work in Progress paper showcases a first-year engineering course that leverages the diversity found in community college classrooms to teach students the engineering design process, and exposes them to multiple fields of engineering, within the context of a team-based, multidisciplinary design project. Overlaps between disciplines exist in all engineering fields, making multidisciplinary engineering skill sets vitally important to every engineering graduate. Furthermore, expanding globalization of the workplace requires that students be able to work in diverse team environments and leverage the diversity with design teams to improve team performance.

The community college is an ideal environment to teach multidisciplinary engineering skills within the context of culturally, ethnically, age, gender, and skills diverse engineering design teams. During the Fall 2017 semester, for example, enrollment in the first-year engineering design course described herein consists of thirteen students from seven different countries and is 31% female. The students have widely varying skill sets with backgrounds ranging from traditional students, to combat veterans, to transfer students, to first generation college students. This diversity in skills and backgrounds enables students to be placed into multidisciplinary design teams based on their unique interests coming into the course. This allows them to explore those interests while still requiring them to interact with group members focused on other disciplines throughout the course.

In this particular course, the teams are placed on a project to design and build an autonomous, line-following robot able to collect and store items in its path. However any multidisciplinary project could be used. This project was chosen because of the large amount of available robotics documentation and versatility of modification of the design based on student interests. It is intentionally open-ended to teach students the critical skill of developing a solution to a problem with no definitely correct answer. Moreover, the project is not discontinued at the end of the semester, but is reintroduced to the next group of students as another iteration of the engineering design loop. This allows for a full-scope understanding of reverse engineering, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the design loop, all within a first year course.

In order to prepare students for the project, core concepts in engineering, circuit analysis, and statics are taught during the first two thirds of the semester. Arduino-based labs are completed during the circuit analysis portion to reinforce electrical concepts and prepare them to refine the Arduino-based robotic controls. Computer aided design (CAD) labs are executed during the statics portion of the course to prepare students to design the physical components of the robot.

Finally, students are assembled into design teams of three to five people to work on the robot for the remainder of the semester. A prototype from the previous semester is provided to them, and a list of current problems or areas for improvement are suggested. The teams then work together to identify who will tackle which aspect of each problem, and schedule their work. Students are expected to design and 3D print their components, and assemble and program the redesigned robot. This allows several areas of engineering to be introduced including mechanical, electrical, materials, and computer engineering. Other disciplines are introduced as the students’ interests are discovered.

In order to test the students’ knowledge gained during the semester, a control survey is given the first day of class and again as a section of the final exam. The survey covers general engineering knowledge, circuit analysis, and statics. This gives a “before and after” picture of the students’ knowledge of fundamental engineering skills and concepts. Feedback from this is then used to adjust lecture and lab content to correct deficiencies in future semesters.

In addition to the control survey and traditional written exams, a final oral exam is administered. Teams must prepare a final presentation and report on their work. During team presentations, each student must speak about his or her specific contributions to the project, and the instructor asks general conceptual questions as well as detailed questions related to the specific student’s work on the project. This format provides a fair and accurate method to assess each student’s performance individually within the context of a team.

Preliminary results show strong comprehension in topics such as statics, circuit design, CAD, and programming capabilities. Additionally, students have reported a high interest in what they learned and intend to continue in their field of study. The course has also served to help students identify or confirm specific areas of engineering interest, enabling them to make an informed decision on which specific discipline to pursue.

Ely, D. R., & Bice, J. E., & Erk, K. A. (2018, June), Work in Progress: Leveraging the Diverse Backgrounds of Community College Students to Teach Team-based, Multidisciplinary Engineering Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31295

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