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Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education (2012)

Chapter: University of Texas at Austin

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

Project-Centered Education in Mechanical Engineering

Lead Institution: University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

Category: Course/Curricular

Date Implemented: September 2000




Program Description: PROCEED (Project-Centered Education) is a department-wide curriculum reform program with the overarching goal of producing BS graduates who are exceptionally industry- and graduate study-ready. The central themes are (1) better connection of theory with practice, (2) restoration of the “hands-on” element of engineering education, (3) building teamwork and organizational skills, (4) enhancing communication skills, and (5) developing competence in dealing with complex open-ended problems. Specific activities include collaboration with corporate engineers to develop case studies, videoconferencing with corporate engineers to demonstrate applications of related theory, use of reverse engineering of real products and systems in many courses to teach analysis and design, development of hands-on labs and integration of lab work with theory in core courses, introduction of new computer simulation projects in several theory courses, development of an online portfolio system to showcase student project work, development and application of comprehensive assessment methods, opening of a senior elective sequence to a broad variety of career path options, and creation of Bridges to the Future certificate programs which encourage high-performing undergraduates to participate in research as a jump-start to graduate study. Faculty met in informal seminars to discuss how to prepare mechanical engineers for the 21st century with no budget, space, or faculty constraints. Workshops, some with corporate advisors, then defined 15 pilot projects. Components are often provided by sponsors, who also provide detailed product information and send engineers to talk about them. Faculty and students regard project-centered education as worth the extra effort, although some students try to keep their GPAs up by taking fewer semester hours in PROCEED, thus lengthening time to graduation. We are exploring ways to alleviate concerns by carefully eliminating low value-added content and possibly expanding summer offerings of time-intensive courses.

Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: Our specific desired outcomes are: ability to (1) know and apply engineering and science fundamentals; (2) solve open-ended problems; (3) design mechanical components, systems, and processes; (4) set up, conduct, and interpret experiments and present results in a professional manner; (5) use modern computer tools; (6) communicate in written, oral, and graphical forms; (7) work in teams; (8) lay a foundation for learning beyond the degree; and awareness of (9) professional practice issues, including ethical responsibility, creative enterprise, and loyalty and commitment to the profession; and (10) contemporary issues in engineering, including economic, social, political, and environmental issues and global impact. Student evaluations, particularly related to Outcomes 1 through 7, show PROCEED sections consistently rate higher in quantity of work, quality of assignments, and improvement of student skill level than conventional courses. Course instructor and graduate surveys reflect high student satisfaction despite high workloads. ABET accreditation reviews cited the hands-on philosophy as a major strength and gave high marks to courses employing reverse engineering. Outcomes 8, 9, and 10 depend on general education courses and extracurricular experiences.

Assessment Information: The QQI (Quantity, Quality, and Improvement) instrument was developed to assess student perceptions of the effectiveness of project-based courses by measuring the quantity and quality of learning opportunities and student achievements with respect to specified learning outcomes. It was piloted in 2002, incorporated in an online survey, and subsequently implemented in a representative sample of newly implemented project-centered courses. QQI provided valuable feedback to instructors at the formative stage, as well as confirming which outcomes received the highest positive student response as a result of the implementation of project-centered learning. Other methods include exit interviews with graduating seniors, feedback from recruiters and departmental advisory committees, and ABET reviews. A doctoral student from the College of Education with 10 years of mechanical engineering experience developed metrics for assessing the effectiveness of project-based methods. Detailed formative and summative evaluations of several PROCEED classes against control sections were carried out in the early stage of implementation. As the program transitioned to mainstream implementation, less formal qualitative evaluations were carried out on a regular annual basis for our ABET documentation process.

Funding/Sustainability: External support has been provided by corporate and private donors, who contribute financially and in-kind with equipment and components. Corporate partners compete aggressively for graduates and have articulated three primary objectives: (1) achieve a high level of visibility and name recognition, (2) motivate students toward consideration of careers in their respective industries by exposing them to projects illustrative of the type of work they might do after graduation, and (3) raise the overall quality of the undergraduate educational experience, thereby enhancing their professional competence and leadership potential. Initial startup costs for the program totaled approximately $900K over a 4-year period, 70% funded by corporate grants and 30% by internal matching. The approximate breakdown was: lab equipment and renovation, 60%; salaries and wages (developmental), 30%; administrative support, 7%; miscellaneous, 3%. Since its inception, a total of over $1.5 million has been contributed by corporate sources. We have been able to absorb the added costs into our regular operating budget, and have been able to maintain a modest level of new curriculum and lab development through continuing support from loyal donors.

Suggested Citation:"University of Texas at Austin." 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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