Multidisciplinary Engineering Design Laboratory
As technology has evolved, the primary challenges in engineering design have shifted
from creating well-defined components to producing complex, interdependent systems.
Furthermore, the design of such systems typically requires the combined talents of a
team of engineers, often from different engineering disciplines. Ironically, as the design
challenges have shifted from components to systems, engineering curricula in
universities have become increasingly specialized. Whereas a decade ago, engineering
students in all disciplines could be expected to have a common foundation of courses
such as mechanics, electronics, and thermodynamics, today's students are required to
specialize in a major beginning in their sophomore year, and thus have little or no
opportunity to take courses outside of their field. While one disadvantage of this trend is
that students have less of an understanding of the physical principles and design
techniques used in other disciplines, a more serious issue is that students are less
familiar with the interfaces between disciplines. This leaves students unprepared to
confront the most difficult problems faced by practicing systems designers: how to
simultaneously meet all the constraints imposed by different concerns, and how to
effectively make trade-offs between concerns to optimize system performance.
To address this issue, we propose to develop a Multidisciplinary Engineering Design
Laboratory for undergraduates. The main goal of this laboratory is to teach students the
principles of systems design through interdisciplinary group design projects. While we
plan to introduce this laboratory through an interdepartmental design course for seniors
in the fall of 1995, ultimately our goal is to develop a program suitable for freshmen.
Specifically, seniors enrolled in the initial offering of the laboratory will help to
develop, prototype, and document projects for use the following year by freshmen. Each
of these projects will be defined so as to involve typical design issues from two or more
engineering disciplines, at a technical level appropriate for freshmen. We believe that
the benefits of the approach are many: seniors will participate in a "capstone" design
experience, freshmen will be exposed to practical applications in each of the
engineering disciplines before they have to select a major, and all of the students
involved will have the opportunity to develop and refine interdisciplinary group
problem solving skills.
Author: Jay B. Brockman
Date Created: March 23, 1995