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Feature: Engineering Student Success by Design

  • Author:
    Patricia Mroczek
  • Published:
    Summer 2014

Design Day celebrates its 20th anniversary  

            The Boeing Co. wanted to improve its flight simulation software.

            Meijer wanted a mobile app so customers could send real-time feedback about their shopping experiences.

            An NGO sought an affordable device poor Guatemalans could use to harvest protein-rich pigeon peas.

            Who did they turn to? Student engineers at Michigan State University. In fact, 619 students divided into teams and tackled 152 real-world challenges at the College of Engineering’s 20th Design Day in April. The college hosts two such days each academic year, one each at the end of fall and spring semesters.

            The wildly popular biannual events began in 1994. Since then, generations of MSU students have tested their brilliance by seeking solutions to tangible issues posed by actual  clients. General Motors, Whirlpool, Bosch, Google, Union Pacific, Ingersoll Rand, U.S. Steel, Habitat for Humanity and scores of others were among this spring’s heavyweights.

            Teams encompassed students from all 10 engineering majors. They’d labored for months on strategy, design, execution and presentation of their recommendations and discoveries.

            One team hatched a plausible plan to connect Bath Township to a well-traveled network of recreational trails. Another analyzed the marketability of a new type of foam that can be recycled rather than dumped after its life in furniture, mattresses and automobiles.

            Meanwhile, peers looked for time- and cost-saving techniques that the Peckham clothing company could adopt to streamline the labor-intensive production of Patagonia Jungle shirts.

            Others designed an electronic parachute deployment system for Texas Instruments, whose products include a line of hobby rockets.

            “We turn our lessons into hands-on projects in two-week milestones. The process of planning, designing and building are also important in the professional engineering world,” says mechanical engineering senior David Miller.

            “Add in the fun of competition and MSU gets to show off what engineers can accomplish,” says the Grand Haven native.

            And what a show it is. The aspiring MSU engineers – dressed in their professional best – crammed the nooks and crannies of the College of Engineering’s sprawling three-story building.

            A high-tech show and tell materialized in the forms of table-top displays, public presentations, posters and prototypes. Swirling around it all were representatives from participating corporations, fellow collegians, faculty, judges, the media and throngs of high-spirited junior high- and high-school students.

            “Design Day, without fail, is one of the most important and popular days in our college," says Leo Kempel, acting dean of the College of Engineering. “It's where we can see the valuable lessons learned by our students being applied with enthusiasm to innovative solutions in a real-world setting. It’s creativity come alive, which is amazing to see and appreciate.”

            Wayne Dyksen is the executive director of Design Day. He says “design is at the core of all our engineering programs, starting in the first week of class with our freshmen, and culminating in the final semester with our seniors in their capstone project courses.”

             “The impact of our emphasis on creativity and design is evident each year,” he adds.

            While it’s a lot of fun, it may potentially result in breakthrough solutions to vexing engineering problems, launch young careers and catapult student engineers into the enviable rank of profit-making licensees.

            “The concept of Design Day is really powerful,” says Adam J. Haas ’98, vice president of Ford Motor Company’s technology services organization in India.

             “I really enjoy walking the floor and meeting teams from all the disciplines to understand how they have collaborated with each other. You can sense a lot of pride, a sense of completion and maybe even a bit of exhaustion,” Haas says.

            And perhaps more importantly, MSU students who have Design Day experiences on their resumes tend to really stand out and perform wellin professional settings, he adds.

            See the Design Day video:

            Read the 20th anniversary edition of the “Design Day” book with project descriptions:

Break outs:

Spring 2014 Design Day

            • 619 student engineering participants

            • 152 teams

Capstone projects

            337 graduating seniors

            78 teams

            43 companies

Design Day Outreach

            6 schools

            150 students in grades 9-12

            50 percent pupils under-represented populations