For the first time, seniors in the Electrical Engineering (EE) and Mechanical Engineering (ME) programs this Fall are taking a combined "capstone" course. In the past, students in these two programs have enrolled in separate design projects courses. While maintaining traditional core features students working in teams and project-based learning the new Student Experience in Engineering Design ("SEED" for short) challenges our students with more complex and multidisciplinary problems.
SEED projects are much more typical of the system development initiatives engineers undertake in industry. Another notable feature of SEED is that 11 of the 15 projects originated as statements of need from Burlington-area companies and are being conducted with the direct, continuous involvement of engineers and other professionals from those companies. Three more are driven by the needs of faculty research grants, while another addresses critical design needs of the student group AERO, a Formula Hybrid club. Two students from Computer Science and one from Engineering Management have joined the 51 EE and ME students registered for the course.
The organizer of SEED and its chief instructor is Professor Mike Rosen. Mike has developed the course material and industry contacts together with Professor Jeff Marshall during the past twelve months (beginning in Fall 2006). This initiative began with a directive from Domenico Grasso, Dean of the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS), that such a course be created to add emphasis to design education and strengthen the links between industry and UVM undergraduate engineering education.
What value is there in having UVM students work with industry on real-world design projects? The answer depends on who you ask.
From a company's perspective, a SEED project offers the opportunity to work directly with seniors who are likely to be candidates for entry-level engineering positions when they graduate. Company engineers get to take a long-standing problem off the back burner and often consider the mentoring role a welcome addition to their more typical duties.
The point of view of most CEMS faculty is that their students' education will gain substantially from exposure to open-ended multidisciplinary problems that require investigation and redefinition before design of solutions can begin. Faculty (and ABET, the accrediting body for the Engineering Programs) are also clear that integration of knowledge and skills from the previous three years of core classes is best accomplished through meeting design challenges that incorporate elements from many of those classes.
Students relish the opportunity to engage in engineering practice as preparation for work in industry and as application of the theory they have been learning. In addition, Professor Rosen teaches students to seek design ideas not only from their courses but from nature, technology, and the physical phenomena they observe in everyday living. Finally, SEED allows students to engage in teaching each other the fundamentals of their disciplines, an important and useful experience in learning and collaboration.
SEED teams of three to five students are now three weeks into projects partnered with:
Funding for grant-driven projects was awarded to engineering faculty by NASA and the National Science Foundation. Projects address a broad range of needs including:
Costs of SEED and other engineering design activities in CEMS are underwritten in part by generous contributions from outside donors, including all the project partner companies. One particularly fortuitous partnership was made possible by Lisa Aultman-Hall, Director of the UVM Transportation Center (UTC). The UTC provided SEED with a grant for two alternative power projects, leveraging matching funds from DR Power and Local Motion.
In addition to the vital teaching provided by engineers at partner companies, ten members of the CEMS faculty are serving as mentors to the SEED student teams. Guidance from Mike Rosen, Jeff Marshall, Josh Bongard, Mike Coleman, Mandar Dewoolkar, Yves Dubief, Jeff Frolik, Darren Hitt, Robert Jenkins and Tian Xia ensure that project implementation is grounded in knowledge and skills from all corners of the undergraduate engineering curriculum.
Are you are interested in getting your company involved?
If your company or pending grant-funded project might gain by involving a SEED team next Fall, the time to start planning is now. Development of partnerships and project definitions is ongoing. Please contact Mike Rosen at 656-2318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.