The design4practice sophomore design course: Adapting to a changing academic environment

John T. Tester, Jerry Hatfield

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


At Northern Arizona University, an interdisciplinary sophomore design course - EGR 286 - has undergone a fundamental shift in its innovative and award-winning course structure. This shift is funded in part through a Hewlett Foundation-supported development effort to encourage recruitment and retention of engineering students, with an emphasis on under-represented student populations. This recruiting and retention effort is emphasized in light of historically declining enrollments on the campus as well as in some engineering departments. The course revitalization is centered on enabling more direct student participation in design projects. It begins with two-person design teams that design, build and test weekly projects involving LEGO® parts, sensors, and the Robotic Command explorer (RCX). The course progresses in the semester to finally encompass larger design teams of fourteen students, with each team designing a complex, autonomous, roboticstyled system. This revision was to enable a more flexible mix of engineering student majors (Mechanical, Electrical, Civil and Environmental), as some departments had different enrollments for each semester. Furthermore, the philosophy shifted from a primarily project management to a more technical design/build/test approach to design education. The students learn both technical and team skills incrementally by accomplishing new designs each week for nine weeks in teams of two to four students. In the final six weeks, the smaller teams are merged into a larger team of 14-20 students, such that they may then be better able to design a much more complex robotic system design. We detail the course restructuring, which includes the small-projects concept to build knowledge, the course management issues for the college, and the material costs incurred.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2993-3004
Number of pages12
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2005
Event2005 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: The Changing Landscape of Engineering and Technology Education in a Global World - Portland, OR, United States
Duration: Jun 12 2005Jun 15 2005


  • Design education
  • Engineering education
  • Student retention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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