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A New Special Topics Course In Mechanical Engineering: Invention Case Studies
Are most mechanical engineering graduates well prepared for the job market? Many would say that engineering curriculums focus too much on analytical skills while industry positions often require mature professionals with mechanical design intuition and the ability to continue learning. However, there are many difficulties in teaching design and professionalism to students. A new special topics course has been developed for the mechanical engineering program at Mississippi State University. The course has four focus areas taken from historical cases related to engineering: Inventions, experiments, theoretical foundations, and ethics. Through case studies the students observe the skills and character traits that led to the successes and failures of previous engineers in each of these areas. In the area of inventions, for example, the students read biographies and patents related to the development of the steam engine and axial piston pumps. This segment was assessed with reading outlines, class discussions, and project presentations. For the ethics portion of the course, the students participated in a spirited debate on an engineering ethics case. In addition to gaining engineering understanding, the course builds soft skills in the areas of ethical reasoning, reading challenging texts, group discussion, and group presentations. No courses in the current curriculum teach students the skill of participating in a discussion effectively, a critical skill in industry. In this course group discussion was at the forefront. This paper will summarize the course content, assess how well the objectives were met, and discuss plans to improve the course.