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Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education (2012)

Chapter: Santa Clara University

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

A Field Robotics Program for Real World

Undergraduate Education

Lead Institution: Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA

Collaborating Institutions: Government agencies, commercial partners, non-profit entities, academic partners

Category: Course/Curricular/Interdisciplinary

Date Implemented: 1999




Program Description: This interdisciplinary field robotics program run by the Santa Clara University (SCU) Robotic Systems Laboratory (RSL) is an integrative education program in which teams of students design/fabricate/test/demonstrate high-quality robotic systems that operate on land/sea/air/space and meet the specific needs of external clients. The nature of the program was influenced by the robotics-oriented interests of the lead faculty member and the need to simultaneously serve the teaching and research demands on faculty. Once a field-oriented robotics program was identified as the objective, financial demands naturally led to the pursuit of development projects with paying clients. These projects have included a wide range of partners from government, industry, academia, and the nonprofit sector. Over the past decade, interdisciplinary projects have involved faculty and students in a variety of academic departments, including mechanical, electrical, computer, civil, and bio-engineering, math/computer science, physics, archeology, and business. Specific objectives are to: (a) provide real-world, hands-on, interdisciplinary engineering education experiences, (b) provide project-based learning initiatives spanning cradle-to-grave product lifecycle, specifically including the challenges of producing, maintaining, and operating a robust field-capable system, (c) require students to plan, organize, and manage a team, development process, and operational activities in a fiscally and logistically sustainable manner, (d) work with customers to identify and solve problems cost-effectively, (e) provide engineering challenges that require research-oriented technology advancements, and (f) engage in compelling activities that inspire students. Projects engage students differently: junior/senior students target design challenges, cutting-edge capabilities motivate graduate researchers, and freshmen/sophomores are introduced to relevant technologies and practices by learning how to operate and maintain systems. Through the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN), we are working with other universities to provide students with opportunities that expose them to deep interactions with customers and demand the application of business acumen to the development and operation of advanced technical systems. Through the IEEE Real World Engineering Projects program, we will share curricular elements with universities throughout the world.

Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: Anticipated outcomes included: (1) learn advanced concepts and practices; (2) apply science, math and engineering principles to the design of advanced systems; (3) work with clients to understand needs, translate needs to requirements, manage implementation of requirements through a development process, and verify the achievement of requirements and needs upon completion; (4) manage development and operational activities to include creating fiscally and logistically sustainability strategies for long-term program viability; (5) engineer complete systems with the quality required to meet the demands of real-world operation and a client-oriented program; and (6) develop technical innovations that improve client value through increased performance, faster response, and improved cost-efficiency. We routinely reach capacity, and feedback from students, graduates, industry mentors, and department industrial advisory boards consistently supports the notion that we are providing exciting and novel opportunities for undergraduate engineering students. Evidence shows improved senior capstone project performance for robotics-oriented projects, and long-term client relationships and funding continuity showcase RSL’s value. Several publications include student authors and serve as a strong record of the level of technical innovation.

Assessment Information: Student learning is assessed based on the educational mechanisms used to support their participation, which may be different within a project given that students may be involved in different ways. Students participating in a project as part of a senior capstone program are assessed based on the established norms of the capstone program (designed to meet ABET requirements). Younger students may be involved in the same project as part of a 1-unit course in either marine operations or satellite operations. These courses teach students basic concepts relating to marine/space systems, how these systems are built and function, and how to safely and efficiently maintain and operate these systems. Students participating through such courses are evaluated based on the approved assessments for those classes. Students active on a project through other mechanisms (e.g., independent study, graduate research, internship) are assessed in a manner consistent with those educational activities. Through KEEN, we assess student learning at a programmatic level through detailed inventories assessing the maturation of student competencies and characteristics over their four-year program.

Funding/Sustainability: Although this program has been supplemented by education-oriented financial support, much of the funding results from customers who provide financial support for the system to be developed. Support is priced commensurate with the work and value provided, not based on a pre-set nominal fee. Systems are maintained and operated over subsequent years, and new students are trained to manage, maintain, and operate the systems in order to provide long-term services. Funding, at an average level of several hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, has been consistently secured through a variety of clients throughout the past decade. We will continue developing systems that specifically address the needs of clients that can afford to pay for our services and systems.

Suggested Citation:"Santa Clara 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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