MechSE’s professional master’s degree program, the Master of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering (M.Eng.ME), has received several upgrades heading into 2019-20.
Previously directed—along with the MS and PhD programs—by MechSE’s associated head for graduate programs, the M.Eng.ME program now has its own dedicated faculty director in Teaching Assistant Professor Jiajun He. He has been working with Associate Head Taher Saif and Department Head Tony Jacobi to advance several aspects of the program.
“To actually enhance the experience of the students and get them better prepared for future jobs, we developed new courses and we invited industrial experts to teach those courses,” He said. “For example, we have Dr. Kevin Wise from Boeing who is teaching a course on control systems for aerospace applications.”
In addition to experts from industry, MechSE faculty are teaching courses that are closer to what students will experience on the job. One of them is a capstone design course, ENG 573, in which students work with companies on real-world engineering challenges.
Another is ME 598, a catch-all course for “special topics” that faculty members customize. One ME 598 section, “Fun with Mechanics,” is a two-semester elective course taught by Professor Emeritus Darrell Socie. He creates an industry-analogous environment with industry-level expectations.
With three people in each group, Socie tasks the students with designing and building drill-powered vehicles that compete in a race around the Bardeen Quad at the end of the spring semester. The students design the vehicle in the fall semester, which leaves the spring semester for manufacturing. The course requires students to submit monthly progress reports to Socie, compile a purchasing list by the end of the fall semester, and produce a functioning final product by the day of the race.
The experience gives students a project that they can take true ownership of from start to finish.
The team must be accountable for scheduling their time and ensuring that they are making adequate progress to finish the task. They are in charge of ordering the purchased parts and materials for their vehicle, which requires that they consider lead times, quantities needed, and other concerns.
Socie views the progress reports as a valuable way to demonstrate the expectations students will need to meet in their future jobs.
“In the beginning I spend a lot of time with them describing the difference between what you did and what you accomplished,” Socie said. “Initially, a lot of the students just want to fill out the report and so they include a lot of trivial things that they did. And if you go out to work and you fill up a page with trivial things and give it to your boss that’s going to put big red flags in front of him that you haven’t accomplished anything and your project isn’t progressing.”
The design project itself poses many engineering challenges for the students. The vehicles need to hold a driver, so the scale of the project is much larger than what most students are used to. This can cause a lot of unforeseen challenges with all of the forces and considerations being of a greater magnitude than what they have previously encountered.
“There are all kinds of real life lessons that I try to teach in the class,” Socie said. “Those are the types of lessons that you keep for a very long time, and that’s the benefit of classes like this. You learn.”