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Starting on the Right Track: Introducing Students to Mechanical Engineering With a Project-Based Machine Design Course

[+] Author Affiliations
Aaron M. Dollar, Amy E. Kerdok, Solomon Gilbert Diamond, Paul M. Novotny, Robert D. Howe

Harvard University

Paper No. IMECE2005-81929, pp. 363-371; 9 pages
  • ASME 2005 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Innovations in Engineering Education: Mechanical Engineering Education, Mechanical Engineering/Mechanical Engineering Technology Department Heads
  • Orlando, Florida, USA, November 5 – 11, 2005
  • Conference Sponsors: Mechanical Engineering Education
  • ISBN: 0-7918-4232-0 | eISBN: 0-7918-3769-6
  • Copyright © 2005 by ASME


Over the past four years, we have redesigned Harvard’s introductory mechanical engineering course to introduce the principles, practices, and pleasures of mechanical engineering in an accessible format. The main goals of the course are to provide experience in the design process, demonstrate the connection between engineering science and design early in the curriculum, and build student enthusiasm for engineering, serving to attract and retain students. Unlike most introductory mechanical engineering courses, we cover strength of materials and machine elements, material usually presented much later in the curriculum, in order to provide tools for the students to quantitatively evaluate their designs. By providing just enough of this background knowledge to allow for analysis of designs, we demonstrate the connection between engineering science and design early in curriculum and motivate in-depth coverage of these topics in later courses. The laboratories for the course build enthusiasm for engineering by incorporating exciting design projects and introducing students to some of the most attractive mechanical engineering tools. Students learn 3-D solid modeling with CAD software, create prototypes from CAD models using manual and CNC machining, and reverse engineer common consumer products. Using these tools, students build their own hardware prototypes for both a cantilever beam catapult and a model all-terrain-vehicle. These exercises, carefully chosen to reinforce the strength of materials and machine elements concepts, culminate in design contests that enhance the visibility of engineering within the larger university community and increase student interest in the field.

Copyright © 2005 by ASME



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