Students in the POD


The course instructors are issuing an open call for high-quality client-based or community-driven projects to be solved by first-year Duke University engineering students.

You have the opportunity to support bright students and to benefit from their ideas!

Many engineers at Duke University solve an authentic, client-based design challenge during their freshman year. Through the course, Engineering Design and Communication, students work in multi-disciplinary teams to design and build solutions to these challenges. These projects allow Duke students to discover the importance and relevance of engineering by solving contemporary problems whose solutions benefit clients or society directly. The course is housed in The Engineering Design POD and The Foundry.

Successful Projects Include:

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Solvable Without any Specific Disciplinary Engineering Knowledge

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Multiple Components, Making it Easy to be Worked on by a Team

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Open-ended Solutions

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The Opportunity for Prototype Design and Iteration

Submit a Proposal

As part of this call we are asking you to submit worthwhile and relevant ideas, problems, or areas of improvement you observe in your career, your company, or daily life. We will work with you to frame the problem to include underlying engineering principles and be tractable for a team of first-year engineering students to complete over the course of one semester.;

"It was so rewarding to work with such a passionate, diverse team of undergraduate students, especially freshmen who are so eager to make hands-on contributions to society."


Projects are funded by Duke University. There is no financial cost as a submitter of ideas or as a project mentor. Project mentors typically spend 10-20 hours working with a student team during the semester.

In summary, teams of first-year engineering students at Duke University are eager to solve authentic, real-world problem faced by you or your company. During the course, first-year students gain early experience in the engineering field, appreciate the relevance of engineering problem solving, and work in a team-based professional environment. You have the opportunity to mentor a team of bright and motivated students for a semester as well as benefit from their ideas and prototype design.

We encourage you to think carefully and then submit a possible project idea.

Submit an Idea, Schedule a Meeting or Discuss a Project

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


What do I have to do?

Prior to the semester, you will virtually collaborate with an instructor to write and approve your project description. At the beginning of the semester, you will present a two-minute “pitch” to the class.

If selected, you will meet with student teams the following week to discuss the project. The students will come to your site to learn more about the “problem” / project and the surrounding environment.

Students teams will work with you to determine additional meetings to discuss the project and their progress. Expect a number of emails asking clarifying questions - especially at the beginning of the semester!


You will have the option to attend 3 presentations and provide feedback.

How often will I be expected to meet with the student team and/or come to the class?

We would like for you to come pitch your project to the class, and then meet at least once with your team. You will have the option to attend 3 presentations by the team and provide feedback. Additional meetings can be scheduled at your discretion with your team.

Can/must I keep the final product?

You are welcome to keep the final product, but it is not a requirement.

What kind of feedback should I be giving to the team?

Honest, constructive criticism is the most helpful. If you love it, don’t be afraid to tell them!


What is the dynamic of the first-year?

(Need to know vs. Academic Needs)

First-years do not know what they do not know. Given multiple platforms to even the playing field (interdisciplinary teams, tools mastery projects, communication training, and professional development)

Flipped classroom requires students to come to class prepared in order to be able to participate in class. They “watch” the lecture outside of class and complete “homework” or in class exercises during class.

Do students come in knowing their major? How does this program influence that?

Is this affected by the team and their project? Currently completing a 5 year assessment - one variable looked at is the “intended major” vs “major declared”. Many students pick a project that introduces them to something new. For example, a student intended to be biomedical may work on a project regarding soil or plants and then gain a new interest in sustainability or environmental engineering.

Do students come in knowing their major and how does this program influence that? Is this affected by the team and their project?

We are currently completing a multi-year assessment and one variable looked at is the “intended major” vs “major declared”. Many students pick a project that introduces them to something new.

For example, a student intended to be biomedical major may work on a project regarding soil or plants and then gain a new interest in sustainability or environmental engineering.

What are the affiliated courses?

EGR101L  (Engineering Design and Communication) and EGR190L (Design 2 Deliver)

Are all majors represented?

FYD is an interdisciplinary class. Projects are not “focused” in any specific area. We strive to have a wide variety of projects so that all students can find something to connect with. Students may work on a team with peers who are biomedical, civil, electrical, computer, environmental, or mechanical engineers (intended) majors.

How much information technology / programming is involved?

Depends on the project! Some projects are heavily based in programming and electronics, while some have a more mechanical focus.


What is the “pathway” for all four years? Freshman to Senior design?

FYD creates a cornerstone of design. Before FYD, design was not introduced until the late-second half of the undergraduate career.

What is the financial model around each project?

Student teams budget $300 for developing their prototypes. Prototypes should be usable/convenient, durable, and portable. With this budget in mind, clients typically suggest a market price for their product. Students quickly learn that project planning costs do not equal the cost of the final product.

What is the financial cost to me?

There is no cost to the client! We just ask that you donate time to the team and provide feedback towards the development of the prototype and its ability to solve your “problem”.

Project Selection/Timeline:

Does the project need to be strictly mechanical? Electrical?

No! The projects can be open-ended and the students will determine the solution.

Can I pitch more than one project?

Yes, but be aware that there is a time commitment involved with each project you pitch.

How are projects selected?

After your pitch, students will rank their preferences for projects using a survey. We attempt to match students to one of their top choices.

Are these first-world solutions?

Projects are sourced from many locales, so solutions will also range in complexity and sourcing availability. If you wish to pitch a project for the developing world, we can and have accommodate that.

If my problem is too complicated can I have students work on small blocks/pieces of it? Maybe just one part per semester?

It’s ideal that projects be self-contained in one semester. Some larger projects in the past have been divided into parts, but each part was handled by a team in the same semester. Unfortunately, we are not set up to accommodate projects over several semesters.

What if my project is not selected?

You have three options:

1) Preferred: We pitch it again the following semester.

2) Modify the project: we can tweak the description, problem/goal, or components of the project and pitch it again when ready, or

3) We archive the project.

What if my prototype is successful?

If the prototype is successful, we will likely spend a semester reviewing and “perfecting” the prototype to ensure it is reasonably produced and able to be marketed. If it is, we can move forward with the patent process.