Engineering Design Students Create ‘On the Spot’

Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Students sharing their on-the-spot projects with each other and their professor via online video conference.

A design challenge had first-year engineering design students creating gadgets within 30 minutes from five or less household materials. Then, the products were presented to classmates for feedback and, in all cases, admiration.

What kind of gadget could you create from duct tape, a cardboard box, paper clips, packing tape and toothpicks – within a half-hour?

First-year engineering design students developed a variety of simple, resourceful and practical solutions from five common household materials during one of several online on-the-spot design competitions conducted this spring. The identity of the assigned task was unknown to the students before each assignment.

And, while the contest may have had a time limit, the students’ realistic solutions were unlimited. Some even could help people cope with today’s health care crisis.

Jackson Costa developed a disposable COVID-19 personal protection suit from a wire hanger, stack of plastic cups, roll of tape and a trash bag. The hanger tied together three of the cups to cover a person’s nose, mouth and ears, while the trash bag was a makeshift lab coat.

A facemask buckle that relieves the stresses of ear straps was quickly made by Grace Eggers from paper clips, toothpicks, paper plates, tape and paper.

Meanwhile, Steven Xia created a simple mechanical device that allows a person to open the door by simply stepping on a pulley-like mechanism, therefore pulling down on the handle, a common source of germs, without ever touching it. The device was made from duct tape, an empty toilet paper roll, a piece of paper, paper card, and a part from a miniature raft.

“As someone who just moved, the handless door opening (device) would be super helpful while you’re holding stuff,” admired another classmate.

Other students marveled at John Chung’s windshield wiper-type device for eyeglasses, Jixi Wong’s bionic hand, Noble Jones’s wind up tape dispenser, and Vance Allen’s birdfeeder.

Then, there was Abbi Leul’s coat rack for doll’s clothes, Desirae Webster’s tool belt, Austin Clarke’s clamp, Caleb Boutell’s massage chair, and Matt Supp’s time machine.

“Our students are so creative and I’m always inspired by what they do,” says Patsy Brackin, head of the second-year engineering design program. “We keep testing them in new and different ways, and they just keep hitting it out of the park with their great ideas.”

During the 2019-20 school year, the first-year engineering design majors have learned the basic elements of design, worked with outside clients to redesign toys and household products, explored the different engineering fields that are involved in product creation/production, and enjoyed working together on a variety of classroom activities.

“We may be a big (classroom) group, but over the course of this year, we’ve developed into a close-knit group of friends. We work together to make ourselves and the whole group better,” says Sage Dooley, who created a hat display during the latest on-the-spot design contest. She classifies engineering design activities as “a creative outlet with an engineering standpoint.”

Supp adds, “We learned very early that we each bring a different perspective to the creative process. Yes, we’re trying to be the best we can be, but we’re also there to encourage and support each other.”

“There’s no perfect way to create good products. We all have to work together in a real-world situation to succeed,” states Webster.

Classes have also expanded students’ communication skills through written reports and project memorandums, reviewed by English professor Annie Watt, and oral presentations before classmates, faculty and leaders of community organizations.

“Engineering design is a multidisciplinary major,” says Dooley. “I have learned valuable lessons in time management, cooperation, teamwork, and communications that have made me a better student and classmate in my other courses.”

Finally, Chung remarks, “I like working within a company where I know everyone in an office. That’s the type of atmosphere created in engineering design. We’re working together to apply things that are going to make a difference, maybe not today or tomorrow, but sometime in the future. That’s exciting to me and I know that feeling is shared by my classmates.”
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