A yearlong capstone project for fourth year undergraduate engineering students is often put forward as the model for experiential learning. However, in most undergraduate engineering curricula, there are typically limited opportunities for second or third year students to practice the design skills employed in a capstone project. These skills include engaging in project-based learning with a scope beyond a one semester course, developing physical prototypes using an iterative process, and performing verification and validation testing on a self-designed prototype. With the aim of exposing second and third year students to these skills prior to for a fourth year capstone project, a vertically integrated design program using peer education is being implemented.
In practice, the vertically integrated design takes place via a three week immersion experience in which both second and third year students are temporarily and sequentially embedded in a fourth year capstone project. As a precursor to the capstone immersion, both second and third year students participate in technical skills modules required as part of the design courses. The currently-offered topics for technical skills modules are computer-aided drafting, embedded systems, 3D printing, laser cutting, machining, and mammalian cell culture. Additional modules are also planned. At the conclusion of learning a technical skill, the second and third year students are integrated with the fourth year capstone team to apply the newly acquired skill. Throughout the immersion, capstone students function as peer educators for second and third year students. Fourth year students are responsible for providing context to the technical skills and instructing underclass team members in the implementation of deliverables for the project.
The anticipated enhancement of learning outcomes from the vertically integrated design program include second, third, and fourth year students. As part of the vertically integrated experience, second year students create technical drawings, develop embedded systems, culture human or bacterial cells, and participate in prototype fabrication of either complete designs or subsystems all within a framework of a meaningful application. These students will gain mastery through repetition, practice translation between abstract representations and physical products, implement quality management systems, and observe the bio-design process. Third year students will primarily be tasked with verification and validation of designs. They will execute good engineering practice while taking part in risk assessment, experimental design, prototype testing, systems integration, and/or data analysis. Outcomes from fourth year students are principally management and leadership training. They will have the opportunity to serve in the capacity of a project manager whose responsibility is to establish and communicate training, deliverables, and schedules.
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