Reshaping first-year engineering design

School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs faculty receive funding to improve early engineering education

Nicholas Meisel, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering, discusses the engineering design process with first-year engineering students. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – For the last two years, faculty members in the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) have worked to better emphasize world-class engineering principles in EDSGN 100: Introduction to Engineering Design. Project-based course modules focusing on topics ranging from creativity to making have been devised and implemented in order to present first-year engineering students with holistic, real-world design projects.

As the modules are executed in various EDSGN 100 sections, by various faculty members and at various campuses across the Commonwealth, SEDTAPP researchers are now focused on creating a unifying experience for all Penn State EDSGN 100 students.

Nicholas Meisel, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering, has received a grant from the College of Engineering’s Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education to design, implement and assess a new framework that will be used to create unifying design experiences during the first eight weeks of EDSGN 100. Christopher McComb, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering; Jessica Menold, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering; and Sarah Ritter, assistant teaching professor in SEDTAPP, are serving as Meisel’s co-principal investigators on the grant.

The team, comprised of experts in engineering design and engineering education, will create a unifying design framework that defines key EDSGN 100 project concepts and characteristics. These characteristics will highlight the necessary content from the existing educational modules. Current modules include “World-Class Engineer,” “Engineering Communications,” “Innovation,” “Making,” “Seeing the Big Picture” and “Grand Challenges.”

“From the development of the EDSGN 100 modules, we’ve started to identify the crucial elements of what it means to practice engineering design in today’s world and how these elements should be translated to the classroom,” Meisel said. “Characteristics like cultural awareness, consideration of environmental impacts, hands-on fabrication experience and innovative problem-solving are more important than ever.”

The framework will be leveraged in an example design project that is used in a pilot study during the fall 2018 semester. This project will also feature mimicked virtual teaming scenarios to simulate distance teaming, an increasingly common component of engineering design projects. Information and data collected from the pilot study will be used to create an initial assessment and potential redesign of the framework. The reviewed and updated framework will then be launched on a grander scale, including EDSGN 100 sections at University Park and select Commonwealth campus locations.

After this eight-week study, faculty will use the spring 2019 semester for a second assessment and revision. Researchers will review students’ engineering design self-efficacy, engagement with the curriculum, virtual teaming performance and final design project quality. This information will impact the final framework, which will be rolled out to all EDSGN 100 instructions at University Park and Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses for the fall 2019 semester.

“EDSGN 100 often acts as a student’s first exposure to the engineering design process. We want to make sure that they are able to walk away from the course having had a chance to practice solving the sorts of large and complex challenges that engineers face every day,” Meisel said. “But first, we have to identify what characteristics these types of problems all have in common, so that faculty members can more easily incorporate them into the classroom.”

Last Updated October 05, 2018