student column

Design Project Broadens Horizons, Blends Departments


Do design projects really belong in departmental isolation? A pilot program at the University of Calgary is breaking the mould and attempting to answer that question.

Engineering students start out doing all the same work. They have the same classes in first year, some of the same in second year, and only a few the same after that.

Design courses are no exception. At the University of Calgary, first-year students all work together in an early design project, but after that the departments each go their own ways. Each department sets its own cirriculum, and senior-level design courses are independent of all other faculties.

Until now, that is.

This is the first year of a U of C pilot program that combines students from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department with students from the Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering Department.

The new interdisciplinary course is one of several initiatives brought forward by the faculty of engineering at the

U of C, in association with the Canadian Design Engineering Network and the NSERC Chair in Life Cycle Design Engineering. The initiatives are designed to promote and enhance engineering design-based education.

Traditionally, departments run their own senior level design courses. These design courses combine all senior- level students in the departments' undergraduate programs, but have not branched out to include members of other departments.

But this is unlike what happens in industry, where engineers from various disciplines combine skills and talents in many different projects.

So far the new course has been successful. There are nine projects in the interdisciplinary course this year, including construction of a magnetically levitating train and a power system that can be used in developing countries.

All the projects combine elements of electrical engineering, such as circuit design, electromagnets and software programming, as well as aspects of mechanical engineering such as cooling systems and mechanical components.

The idea of having an interdisciplinary design class is a new approach in Canadian engineering schools. If it continues to be successful, there are plans to expand its scope.

“If the course is a success this year, the first plan is to make it available to most if not all fourth-year students in the faculty of engineering,” says Dr. Bill Rosehart, the instructor of the interdisciplinary course and a major influence behind its inception. “The long-term plan is to look at how the fourth-year design projects in engineering can be linked to other faculties in the unversity.”

Design is an essential aspect of an engineering student's total education. By having students work with those from other disciplines, design education is improved even further because students are working in an environment much closer to that found outside of academia.

Says Dr. Rosehart, “Giving students exposure to these types of problems should enhance their skills once they graduate.”

It may require a bit more effort to come up with projects that have elements of more than one discipline, and yet can still be completed in eight months by a team of three to five people. On the other hand, the rewards for students are much more than those from a single-discipline project.

Engineering Week Hits the U of C

Jan. 10 was the first day back to classes for the engineering students at the University of Calgary. It was also the first day of ENGG Week 2005. The walls of the engineering building were covered with posters, making sure everyone knew that for one week the engineers would be having lots of fun.

Each department chose a theme. Chemical engineering had a Chemando (Commando) theme, civil had The Civinties ('70s), and electrical (Zoo) students were Zooperheroes. Geomatics decided on Teenage Mutant Ningeo Turtles, and mechanical went with Shmech (Shrek).

Activities included a hockey tournament, Iron Chef and Snow Sculptures. In addition to having lots of fun, the engineering students also collected donations for this year's charity, the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter. Past charities supported by the U of C's engineering students include the Calgary Urban Project Society and the Children's Wish Foundation.

Points are awarded to each department during ENGG Week, and at the end of the week the department with the most points wins (and gets bragging rights for the rest of the year).

This year, the Chemandos took first place. The Zooperheroes made a good showing for second this year – and plan to win it all next year. The other departments may have a few things to say about that!

Author Credits

University of Calgary
Student Contributor (Engineering)