Contributed by Anne Raich, Valparaiso University. This article originally appeared in KEEN Annual Report, 2019-2020. Reprinted with permission.
Valparaiso University recently transformed its lecture-based first-year Introduction to Engineering course into a project-based learning format with entrepreneurially minded learning (EML) elements. Dr. Anne Raich, associate professor and chair of civil engineering, describes the revised course as team-based, hands-on, and interdisciplinary, showcasing insights into the context of engineering practice. The course also teaches engineering design methodology, including physical and computer-based prototyping.
During the course, student teams work through two projects with social impact. The first design and test project is a portable artificial kidney, using a saltwater solution as “blood.” The project’s main technical goal is to clean the “blood” quickly with minimal patient discomfort. Topics include software development, microprocessors, sensors, flow rate, fluid friction, and motor control.
The EML outcomes relate to student stakeholder interviews that hone curiosity and connect to various design decisions. Students also research the significance of this need, pointing toward value. The project highlights how multiple engineering disciplines often work together in the opportunity identification, ideation, design, and testing phases.
The second design problem involves emergency response in a disaster situation. Student teams are challenged to develop a system to aid in transporting equipment, supplies, or people across a gap that exists in a structural system, such as a damaged bridge. Students are asked to consider systems that can deliver supplies to isolated communities and collect autonomous information from sensors to minimize the risk posed to emergency responders.
Students are introduced to statics, materials science, structural engineering, electrical circuits, microcontrollers, sensor data acquisition, programming, and testing. During the project, students also create computer-based models of structural systems to cross the gap. EML outcomes are addressed with three exercises: Students identify what they need to learn to be successful; they are asked to recognize connections between engineering topics and disciplines; and finally, they repeat the learning needs identification as if they were taking the project further.
These activities increase student interest and motivation during the project.
The Introduction to Engineering course is a success based on sophomore Mary Busby’s reaction. Mary states, “The course was good for first-year students because of the real-world applications and gaining an appreciation for different engineering disciplines. The course also helped us with requirements development and problem-solving. As a civil engineer, I particularly enjoyed the project with the structures. There is something so beautiful and practical about working with physical structures like bridges. You can see you're doing something to help people. I got into engineering because I want to help people make society better and more advanced.”
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