The National Science Foundation (NSF) Revolutionizing Engineering and Computer Science Departments (RED) program awarded a grant to Mechanical Engineering Department at a private, mid-sized university in July 2017. This grant supports the development of a program where students and faculty are immersed in a culture of doing engineering with industry engineers, that will in turn, help students and faculty develop stronger engineering identities.
This culture of “engineering with engineers” is being cultivated through changes in four essential areas: a shared department vision, faculty, curriculum, and supportive policies. A theme unifying these changes is a significant connection to industry.
Actions taken to develop this culture based on the four essential areas include-
Shared department vision: The department revisited its vision and goals at the beginning of the project. Collaboratively, they created a pithy, informative mission statement that serves as a guideline for departmental activities. Recently, the department revisited how students are mentored and advised in the light of the revised mission.
Faculty: The department implemented actions to improve faculty’s connection to industry. An industry adviser is on campus every Friday to bridge the knowledge between industry and academia. Two faculty members spent a summer month working in local companies and shared their experiences with other faculty. In the upcoming summers, other faculty will participate in the industry immersion experience. Several faculty members and practicing engineers worked together to offer open-ended projects in their classes. More collaborations with industry partners are expected in upcoming years.
Curriculum: A new mechanical engineering curriculum is rolling out in the 2019-20 academic year. The curriculum focuses on maintaining strong connections with industry and incorporating industry practice in courses. New courses reflect the current needs from industry and emphasize skills such as design thinking, problem solving and project management. The new curriculum also integrates knowledge of electrical engineering and computer science into traditional mechanical engineering core courses creating a better connection between theory and practice.
Supportive policies: A number of changes to the structure and priorities of the program are in progress. For example, places for students to connect and collaborate are being developed. Additionally, departmental annual performance review encourages faculty to connect with industry.
This paper also provides insights on lessons learned thus far and plans to enhance this culture of doing engineering in the coming years.
This project was funded by the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) IUSE/PFE: RED grant through NSF.
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