Capstone design projects are the culmination of the student learning process at the undergraduate level and provide an opportunity for student to work on real-world, open-ended problems. Following the engineering design process, students discover needs, propose solutions, build prototypes and test the implemented design. There are many models that exist in the exact implementation of this ABET-required experience, ranging from need-based design to basic research . A common model is for Biomedical engineering students is to interact with clinicians such as nurses, medical doctors and residents, through interviews and in some cases, immersion experiences . In other cases, the faculty instructor may communicate with the clinicians or industrial sponsors and provide the students with a set of problems .
This paper introduces a new model for empathy-drive design experience that has been implemented through a collaboration between three departments, spread across two universities. Over the past two years, Biomedical engineering (BME) students at XXXXXX University have been working on multidisciplinary teams with Mechanical engineering and Nursing students from XXXXXX University. At the heart of this collaborative effort are patients (‘clients’) from a local VA hospital who volunteer to interact with student teams. This patient-centered model is a transformative experience for the students and there are many aspects of customer-interaction, needs finding and brainstorming that are not possible with the aforementioned models. Students not only learn how to interact with people living with various types and degrees of disabilities but in many cases build long lasting relationships with the clients. The experience also fosters the social responsibility aspect of engineering profession since in most cases, the teams have to understand and incorporate the socioeconomic conditions and cultural pretexts specific to the client.
The opportunity to have a direct impact on the quality of a client’s life is a driving force for student design. However, successful implementation of such a model requires significant planning and close interaction between instructors. Communication between student teams is of paramount importance and is often found to be the primary cause in cases of strained team dynamics. Furthermore, methods of periodic team health assessment are necessary to prevent floundering and ensure participation from all team members. The instructors coordinate course timelines and some course assignments as well as cross-campus lectures. Some of the designed products have resulted intellectual property for the students and have also garnered praise in the local and national media. Methods for further improvement to this multidisciplinary empathy-driven design approach include pre and post surveys that assess student confidence and attitudes to solving problems. Prototypes can also improve from an emphasis on industrial design perspectives.
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