About the course:
Official Course description:
Introduces first years to the process of team-based creative conceptualization, visualization prototyping, and product realization. Students use computer-aided design tools to create custom circuit boards and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machined components to produce prototype systems. Design concepts are introduced and supported through hands-on assignment.
I enrolled in my gateway course, “Engineering 121: Engineering Innovation” my first semester of freshman year and the course provided an excellent introduction to both the certificate program and engineering as a whole. The course centered on design challenges in which groups of three students were presented with some obstacle. As a team, groups would analyze the target problem and develop a physical solution as well as a formal write-up of the solution. The format of these design challenges created the perfect opportunity for me to learn and refine skills as an innovative engineer.
Course Artifact: Creating a Happy Meal Toy
In one of our most enjoyable design challenges, we were tasked with creating a new “Happy Meal Toy” to be launched in 2016. Each team would come up with an idea and ultimate 3D print the toy using SOLIDWORKS. We had to then create a persuasive pitch to convince in audience known as “EGR corporation” (comprised of our teachers and TA’s) that their group’s idea was the best. The assignment was very compressive, involving many aspects of the design process throughout the year. After submitting our idea I was also given the opportunity to work one-on-one with Duke alumni currently working as a professional engineer. Constructive criticism from both the TA’s and alumni allowed me to make the document more professional and incisive. Below is my team’s final proposal after my revisions, with a photograph of our 3D printed toy prototype.
This course taught me how to identify a problem, develop a solution, and implement it with a team: a sequence at the heart of engineering.
Identifying the problem
The first and what I believe to be the most important skill this class taught me was how to identify a problem. A major difference between the classroom and the real world is that problems are not straightforward, there is rarely a single solution, and problems are often times not even given to you, they must be found. This class did a good job of creating broad problems which allowed me to practice identifying which task we are trying to solve, the first step in any solution. As one of my engineering teachers, Dr. Schaad explained to me, one of the biggest challenges is figuring out which problem to solve. Although it seems simple, this is often overlooked. Some of the smartest engineers for the military a couple hundred years ago focused on making more and more sophisticated swords, perhaps losing sight of why they were making sword in the first place. It takes an innovator to put aside the sword and develop a gun, a solution that much more effectively addresses the problem at hand. As a problem identifier, I have become much more focused at the root of problems. I have also become more observant to my surrounding, and I am constantly examining the world for problems. I also now keep a journal with me to make note of these problems as I see them.
Coming up with an idea
Coming into the course I was confused as to what we would learn because I was under the impression that innovation and creativity were inherent and could not be taught. I was surprised to find how many effective techniques can be used to help me come up with ideas. Firstly, whenever I think of any kind of idea or invention I jot it down in my journal; many great ideas and inventions are wasted due to neglect. As the year progressed, I greatly improved my ability to devise effective and practical solutions. Perhaps the easiest and most important technique I have learned is to write down as many solutions to a problem as possible. Before this course, I would sit in deep concentration until I came up with what I believe to be the perfect solution. Now, I write down anything resembling an idea. I believe that most radical innovations are derived from ideas that are initially deemed ridiculous.
In addition to coming up with innovative solutions, I learned how to present these solutions verbally and in writing to others in a professional manner through the use of charts, illustrations, data, and understanding the target audience.
Implementing a solution
In addition to thinking of a solution, we were tasked with physically creating a product. This class taught me how to better work with my hands and understand which materials work well in which situations. I also learned how to use heavy machinery available in the machine shop, how to create circuits, and use the capabilities of 3D printing through the use of SOLIDWORKS. I also learned the importance of prototypes and multiple iterations of both ideas and physical models. I learned that it is nearly impossible to come up with a perfect solution, whose creation goes exactly as planned. Rather than trying to come up with a perfect idea and build a perfect solution on the first try, I now begin building even with an imperfect idea. I have learned that the building process allows me to come up with come up with new better ideas and helps reveal ideas, which prove to be ineffective or impractical. I have acquired a new mindset to be more active and will to try things rather than allowing my perfectionist nature limit me.
Every design challenge involved a great deal of teamwork, and I learned how to better work with my classmates to maximize efficiency and effectiveness targeting team members’ strengths. The most difficult challenge I faced in the way of teamwork was our final project in which our team was composed of 12 total members divided into four teams of three. Our team was tasked with making a themed Atwood machine composed of nine components each triggered by a circuit. It took a lot of careful collaboration in order to ensure that each connection from one component to the next was reliable. Engineering doesn’t occur in a bubble and it is important to develop teamwork skills both with people working on your immediate project and on projects surrounding you.