National Academies Press: OpenBook

Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education (2012)

Chapter: Arizona State University

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Suggested Citation:"Arizona State University." National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18184.

The iProjects Program at ASU Polytechnic

Lead Institution: Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Collaborating Institutions: Industry, government, community

Category: Course/Curricular

Date Implemented: Pilot in fall 2008, full implementation fall 2011




Program Description: The iProjects program at the College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) on the Arizona State University Polytechnic campus is designed to be a pervasive college-wide team program that is highly multidisciplinary, practice-based and open to all 35 degree programs in the five primary units within the College. The iProjects program included a number of challenges: a need for large numbers of team-based projects, a recognition that traditional academic degree program structures do not engender pervasive interdisciplinary practice-based work, a space conducive to student teams and project work, mentorship of student teams, and a new financial model. An early phase of the process consisted of benchmarking educational models within engineering used by other colleges and universities, resulting in changes in academic program structure such as establishing a common time for all students in CTI to meet for interdisciplinary projects. Curricula were designed to be project intensive, with project experiences included in multiple years of the curricula, giving students opportunities to develop the skills to work on teams and to manage projects over multiple projects. Strong external engagement was fostered by meeting with dozens of potential external partners. Space was repurposed into studios and laboratories for project realization, as well as a large highly reconfigurable team space called “Start-up Labs” where student teams have space to generate and develop ideas and work on projects. Project mentors were hired who focused on project realization and provided workshops for faculty. The external community (alumni and skilled managers) has been engaged to voluntarily mentor teams. A financial model was developed whereby the program can be scaled based on enrollment. Within this model, sufficient funds are generated not only to maintain projects completion but to improve the infrastructure supporting the programs. Residual funds are allocated to program support staff and non-industry-sponsored student teams. In addition, a new project class has just been launched called “Start Your Enterprise,” where we partially fund student teams as they launch their own businesses. The external partners have similar objectives: recruiting students, solving a problem for the company, developing a long-term relationship with the CTI and partnerships with other industries and constituencies with the college as an intermediary, and philanthropy.

Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: The College outcomes include the development of meaningful partnerships with external constituencies, professional development of faculty members to enable quality student learning in the context of authentic practice-based projects, placement of students upon graduation with external constituencies, and the development of broader relationships with external constituencies, including training and research partnerships. The student outcomes for the iProjects are linked to the individual program outcomes. The broad outcomes include a mix of technical and professional skills that reflect what is expected of successful practitioners in industry. In terms of design and problem solving, the product realization has been outstanding and has received rave reviews from the industry partners. We have found that students develop a shared appreciation for the value of differences in skills and approaches and are learning how to communicate across disciplines. The reports and presentations being delivered by these teams are more polished and richer in terms of content and the breadth of the project solutions.

Assessment Information: Individual projects are assessed, as is the student learning, by faculty and the industry sponsors. This happens at a minimum of one each semester but some projects/sponsors assess project progress as often as every two weeks. The CTI holds meetings with the industrial partners twice a year for assessment of the broader program. There is an internal iProject committee that evaluates the program annually. The engineering education programs have ABET accreditation cycles that include the projects and the overall program as a critical component of the student’s demonstrating successful attainment of the attributes included in ABET criteria.

Funding/Sustainability: In the first year, two department chairs worked on the implementation along with one external consultant. Faculty were assigned projects as part of their teaching load in the normal mechanism of meeting programmatic obligations, thus no extra cost was associated with their participation in the first year. Project funding was provided by the external sponsors and the typical student project budget was $10,000. For the first year, the staff, chair, and travel budgets were sourced from the department budgets. Since the first year, all funding has come from industrial sponsors and, in a few cases, student program fees for any non-industry-sponsored projects. Industry sponsors fund by the year/project, although several companies have obligated themselves for multiple years. There has been no internal ASU funding allocated since the first year’s contribution from the departmental budgets. The iProjects program has become institutionalized and a part of the College strategic plan. The program is configured to be self-supporting in a financial sense, using both the industry sponsorship as well as special program fees assessed of the students.

Suggested Citation:"Arizona State University." National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18184.
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The aim of this report is to encourage enhanced richness and relevance of the undergraduate engineering education experience, and thus produce better-prepared and more globally competitive graduates, by providing practical guidance for incorporating real world experience in US engineering programs. The report, a collaborative effort of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), builds on two NAE reports on The Engineer of 2020 that cited the importance of grounding engineering education in real world experience. This project also aligns with other NAE efforts in engineering education, such as the Grand Challenges of Engineering, Changing the Conversation, and Frontiers of Engineering Education.

This publication presents 29 programs that have successfully infused real world experiences into engineering or engineering technology undergraduate education. The Real World Engineering Education committee acknowledges the vision of AMD in supporting this project, which provides useful exemplars for institutions of higher education who seek model programs for infusing real world experiences in their programs. The NAE selection committee was impressed by the number of institutions committed to grounding their programs in real world experience and by the quality, creativity, and diversity of approaches reflected in the submissions. A call for nominations sent to engineering and engineering technology deans, chairs, and faculty yielded 95 high-quality submissions. Two conditions were required of the nominations: (1) an accredited 4-year undergraduate engineering or engineering technology program was the lead institutions, and (2) the nominated program started operation no later than the fall 2010 semester. Within these broad parameters, nominations ranged from those based on innovations within a single course to enhancements across an entire curriculum or institution.

Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education is intended to provide sufficient information to enable engineering and engineering technology faculty and administrators to assess and adapt effective, innovative models of programs to their own institution's objectives. Recognizing that change is rarely trivial, the project included a brief survey of selected engineering deans concern in the adoption of such programs.

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