Pratt is embarking on a significant change to its first-year program. Historically, the first year of engineering education has had little engineering; instead, courses for students have been foundational courses in math, physics, chemistry, and biology. The new course Engineering Design and Communication engages all first-year students in an authentic, hands-on, project-based design course. Student teams engage in the engineering design process and build low- and medium-fidelity prototypes to solve a community-based need or problem.
Engineering Design and Communication launched in fall 2017 with the following specific learning outcomes:
- Successfully solve a client-based design challenge by following steps in the engineering design process
- Work collaboratively on an engineering team to complete an engineering design project
- Develop clear and effective technical communication skills, including writing technical memos, presenting oral reports with supporting visuals, and designing a poster
- Develop proficiency to safely use one or more prototyping strategies or tools
- Use a Gantt chart to manage the project
In brief, student teams follow the engineering design process to develop a solution to their design challenge. The first half of the semester is devoted to defining the design problem, researching the problem and solution space by developing a design context review, establishing design criteria or specifications, brainstorming solutions, using a rigorous decision matrix to select a solution, and then describing the selected solution in more detail. During the second half of the semester, student teams focus on physical prototype development, iteration, and testing with the goal of meeting the established design criteria. This “build” aspect of the course is critical for several reasons, including that it is usually necessary to solve the clients’ problem and that students develop important skills by embracing the iterative process of learning.
Since 2017, the First-Year Design program has evolved – finding new ways to incorporate the latest technology, investing in tools and equipment that engineers use daily, and outfitting the learning and working spaces to meet the needs of the students.