I recently posted about a new concept for the NSF Restructuring Engineering Departments (RED) program that extended CSU’s approach and mapped the core threads to spiral memes (SD). One of the results of this was the ability to work with the WSU Grand Challenge research themes. In this post I’ll specify what this mapping could look like in a hypothetical WSU Mechanical Engineering Curriculum. Note that this is not intended to serve as an actual ME curriculum and is simply intended to stimulate conversation.

Ideally the transformation works with our existing curriculum to the greatest extent possible. The current ME course listing is here. The courses are of course divided into semester islands with foundational classes being first and building in complexity and application every year. Mechanical Engineering as a field is further sub-divided into the following tracks: thermo/fluids, mechanics, controls, design, and manufacturing.

Step one: Associate the key discipline tracks with the SD threads. Foundational science maps to thermo-fluids, mechanics, controls, and of course the sciences/maths. Performance based applications maps to design and manufacturing. Sustaining community maps to the arts, humanities, essentially common core classes, and of course engineering professionalism.

Step two: Draw a linear progression of the semesters with the three SD tracks. Then place the classes, as well as you can, along the curriculum continuum. An example comparing the traditional ME curriculum with this new curriculum mapping is shown below.

WSU ME curriculum

Notice that the majority of the classes stay nearly entirely the same but many opportunities for curriculum tweaks emerge. For example, many of our foundational science classes have corresponding laboratory components that can quickly bump the classes up to 4 credits. Of course all of the classes will progress towards more experiential, active, and contextual to real-time team projects. The common core classes take on a new light with the goal of community/sustainability enhancement directly corresponding to WSU’s Land Grant heritage.

Step three: Identify big, multi-year student projects relevant to the grand challenge areas that relate to our faculty research, regional stakeholder, and national interests. Examples include our H2-Refuel challenge team, the Solar Decathlon, Future Car, Future Home, and many, many more. Moreover, the design/application classes cross cut the traditional curriculum boundaries to create a truly multi-discipline and integrative design experience.

Step four: Create the reconfigure-able design spaces (cells?) needed for these applied challenges and get to work!

This approach is likely less dramatic than the CSU approach to transition totally to cellular-flow over a summer. As the remapping begins faculty cohorts will form within the Grand Challenge thrust areas and begin to aggregate teams of students within the applied design challenge areas. The applied performance classes are more project/team specific and will likely have more sections than the foundational or community course sections. As this happens it will become easier to adapt the curriculum to suit the needs of the Grand Challenge teams. Over the years the classes will shift from the foundational levels to the community levels in line with the general societal progression. But this will also require significant improvements at the K-12 level, which is likely an even grander challenge.