‘If it is not broke, do not repair it’: Pratt college and college students disagree over modifications to senior capstone design course

February 28, 2023 by No Comments

Pratt Faculty of Engineering college this 12 months launched vital modifications to the required senior design class for mechanical engineering college students, an replace many seniors say they’re unhappy with. 

The upper-level ME 421L and ME 424L courses comprise a capstone design course sequence within the Division of Mechanical Engineering and Supplies Science (MEMS). Their goal is to tie collectively all the abilities a mechanical engineer learns of their 4 years on the College via the completion of a number of hands-on tasks, together with a time period design challenge that spans practically the complete senior 12 months.

In previous years, mechanical engineering seniors collaborated in groups of about 7 to eight college students to execute these time period tasks. Some have been pitched by College college and business representatives, whereas others have been conceptualized by college students themselves, in accordance with Becky Simmons, affiliate professor of the follow within the MEMS division. 

Nevertheless, within the 2022-2023 educational 12 months, this mannequin was modified to 1 the place the category of 70 college students was break up into two groups of 35 college students, every with a pre-defined goal: to design and construct a cell sensible residence inside a trailer. 

On account of the change, many college students really feel like they misplaced out on a senior design expertise that they have been trying ahead to. 

Senior John Smalley is the present president of Duke AERO, a Pratt pupil membership centered on aerospace engineering and rocket design. He mentioned that in previous years, student-proposed tasks included a self-landing rocket, a drone designed to struggle fires, a suitcase that adopted its consumer via the airport and extra. Thus, he mentioned pupil groups like AERO, Duke Motorsports and Duke Electrical Autos have been hoping to combine their excessive stage of technical work with their senior design challenge.

“We have been sending in concepts earlier than the semester even began as a result of we have been pondering we’d have the ability to do a challenge that’s related to what we wish to do with our life,” Smalley mentioned.

Nevertheless, he mentioned that about three weeks into the autumn semester, the seniors realized in regards to the new format with out warning. He mentioned that whereas some college students have been excited in regards to the prospect of attending to work with a bigger workforce attributable to Duke’s smaller measurement, others like him weren’t as excited as a result of stress that working with a large workforce can deliver.

To Smalley, the chosen challenge indicators a shift within the focus of the course from a mechanical design course to a product design course, as a tiny cell sensible residence sounds to him extra like a marketable product than novel engineering produced by analysis and inventive growth.

“The explanation Duke is so cool is as a result of they educate you not what to assume, however tips on how to assume as an engineer, which I actually admire,” Smalley mentioned. “However we won’t actually use that on this sensible residence, as a result of lots of what we’re doing is taking off-the-shelf gadgets, bolting them collectively after which saying that is our senior design challenge.”

Based on senior Luis Trejo, offering alternatives for a variety of pursuits inside mechanical engineering is particularly vital as seniors look to their upcoming careers. 

“Having the ability to select your challenge provides college students a possibility to get perception into what they’ll be engaged on full time and see if it’s match for them,” Trejo mentioned. 

The 2 groups of 35 college students are damaged down into smaller subteams, every with their very own project in constructing the trailer collectively. Nevertheless, Trejo believes the brand new mannequin has lowered the typical engagement of every pupil, since when 35 persons are engaged on one particular challenge it’s inevitable some will do extra work than others.

“Underneath the outdated mannequin, college students would have been in a position to ‘personal’ their a part of the challenge,” Trejo mentioned. “They’d have been liable for extra, they’d have had extra to speak about, they’d have acquired extra abilities.”

Senior William Kim is on the subteam tasked with constructing a plumbing system for the trailer, together with the bathe, bathroom and sink, a job he was not essentially involved in however merely took as a result of it was accessible. He mentioned that whereas he believes the communication inside his 30-person workforce has been executed properly, he doesn’t really feel like he’s utilized his 4 years of mechanical engineering data.

“We are saying, ‘If it is not broke, do not repair it,’” Kim mentioned. “I do not perceive what was so damaged in regards to the earlier format that it required such a radical reset.”

Simmons and Greg Twiss, an adjunct professor within the Pratt Faculty of Engineering, co-taught the autumn element of the course this 12 months. They defined {that a} main motivation for the change was to problem college students with the realities they could face upon graduating and dealing in business. 

“In business, it’s uncommon that you just get to select your challenge and the individuals you’re employed with,” Twiss mentioned. “We wished to intensify what they’re already doing with components that I feel extra replicate the sort of the challenges that they’ll see in business, particularly extra open-ended issues.”

Twiss mentioned that as an teacher, he would hate for college kids to come back again to him years from now and say that that they had a enjoyable time in his class however ended up utterly unprepared for his or her future careers.

“I would quite have them go, ‘You understand what, Professor Twiss, I used to be sort of ticked at you. However you realize, after 5 years, I see why you probably did what you probably did,’” he mentioned. “I am going to take that possibly they are not fairly as completely happy, but it surely units them up higher long-term versus ‘Oh, what an exquisite time, I acquired every little thing I wished, however why didn’t you inform me?’”

Simmons emphasised the significance of offering college students with a bigger workforce expertise. 

“College students might need a subteam on this challenge of 4 to 6 college students, however they’re part of a a lot larger group and the entire nice or messy issues that go together with that,” she mentioned. “Hopefully college students be taught loads that they will deliver into their subsequent skilled lives.”

She additionally mentioned that every workforce of 35 college students was paired with six mentors from academia and business that they can attain out to.

Kim mentioned that he respects the intent behind the professors’ objective of making ready seniors for the skilled engineering business after they graduate. However he additionally argued that his expertise in AERO and Motorsports has ready him simply as a lot.  

“The meant impact was to make seniors discover ways to work as giant group as small subteams in direction of a bigger challenge, however I already knew that, so I do not really feel like I realized something,” Kim mentioned, acknowledging that this will not be the case for each senior. 

Kim additionally believes that smaller, four-to-eight-person groups are current in skilled engineering circles, a sentiment echoed by Smalley when he described his business internship expertise at Northrop Grumman final 12 months.

“I labored on a workforce of 4 for the complete summer season,” he mentioned. 

Senior Josh Klinger, chief engineer of Duke Motorsports, wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle that whereas he is aware of quite a lot of college students who’ve points with the brand new senior design mannequin, those that select to talk out “worry educational retribution” with regard to their grades. He wrote that a number of occasions he has been “smiled” out of conferences whereas expressing issues in regards to the course. 

When requested if the course will revert again to its unique format, Simmons and Twiss each emphasised that they don’t consider within the course being static.

“A giant a part of design is getting suggestions after which reflecting on the positives, the negatives and the way each of us ought to regularly attempt to make enhancements and attempt to improve the coed expertise,” Simmons mentioned. ”Will it seem like this subsequent 12 months? Most likely not, as a result of we are going to take classes realized.”

“However I feel the ideas we are going to attempt to incorporate … in a possibly totally different manner,” Twiss added.

Twiss mentioned that he and Simmons have been emphasizing the ideas of change, ambiguity and openness to new concepts to their college students. Due to this, he believes it wouldn’t make sense to maintain the course precisely the identical 12 months after 12 months.

“If we’re preaching that, after which we’re not even doing that with our personal instruction, what sort of message does that ship? ‘You’re telling us to try this with the product, however, the course, you’re not doing that your self,’” he mentioned. “I feel it’s completely superb to take dangers for good causes.”

Simmons and Twiss are looking forward to the result of the category, particularly after what they noticed in each groups’ progress, engagement and pupil management through the fall semester. 

“After they begin interviewing [for jobs], ‘Inform me about considered one of your workforce experiences’ is a basic query they’re going to get,” Twiss mentioned. “They’ll have the ability to say, ‘I used to be on a big workforce of 35. We had a brilliant formidable challenge, restricted price range and restricted time. And we have been liable for the total design and integration of this car.’”

Smalley, Trejo, Kim and Klinger all expressed that they consider the course ought to be modified again to its unique mannequin.

“In my excellent world, you’d have the ability to take Motorsports, Duke Electrical Autos, AERO, and so forth. as a category,” Smalley mentioned. “Our colleagues at state universities can take their membership as a category as a result of it’s straight related to their analysis pursuits.”

Equally, Klinger referred to his involvement in Motorsports as “an actual mechanical engineering senior design challenge.” 

Smalley admits that no mannequin will come with out flaws. 

“It’s by no means excellent,” he mentioned. “However at the least [in the previous model] you’re doing one thing novel.”

Alison Korn contributed reporting.

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