Before they head into their careers, Rowan’s engineering students must not only learn how to solve problems, but they must also learn to gauge the impact of their solutions on society.
To help students develop this skill, a new course of study has been implemented this semester to teach students about creating solutions to problems and evaluating the influence their creations have on others.
The class, a sophomore engineering lab coupled with a public speaking lecture, was designed to promote the positive impact engineers can have on the world around them.
Dr. Katharine Barillas, the Experiential Engineering Education (ExEEd) professor who developed the class, said seeing wildfires in California in the news last year prompted her desire to give students a sense of what they can do for the world.
“We’re trying to make sure that students understand that their technology doesn’t just go out into the world, it actually has to do something as a result, and we’re trying to make sure that they are choosing things that actually promote social good,” Barillas said.
For the lab, students were required to come up with an issue they wanted to solve and then design and create a drone to solve it. Issues ranged from finding missing people in emergency situations and delivering vaccines to people in need, to firefighting and monitoring the well-being of crops.
Students spent Friday morning testing the drones they had made over the course of the semester by flying them through an obstacle course in the Rowan Hall atrium. The course consisted of maneuvering the drones between two poles and through a hula hoop suspended from the ceiling, picking up a Chinese takeout container from a table and landing on a padded mat.
The drones were created to best solve students’ chosen problems while creating the greatest good for society. Most of the drones were made with 3D printers, though at least one was created with a laser-cutting technique.
Since this was the first time the class was offered, students ran into several issues to overcome. Other than physical constraints, one of the biggest problems was that some of the materials used were not exactly what was needed. This required students to adapt their methods to create their final product, which is a skill they will continue to utilize throughout their careers, Barillas said.
Another goal of the class was to promote diversity in the engineering field, said Dr. Stephen Fernandez, another ExEEd professor who works with the class.
“The population in engineering is not representative of the population in society,” Fernandez said. “The demographics are different and we wanted to try and see what we could do to attract more women and students of color, underrepresented minorities.”
For their work with the course, Barillas and Fernandez were awarded the Excellence in Diversity for a Group Project during the university’s Celebrating Excellence Awards ceremony on April 11.
Grant Morfitt, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major, said that he appreciates all the effort that has been put into creating the course.
“I think [the first-year class] went a lot smoother than it was going to originally, because there were a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong, but they didn’t,” Morfitt said.
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