An undergraduate Engineering Technical Communications class recently had the unique opportunity to work with local industry leaders and create innovative designs to address a real need. Students in a section of this Fall’s ENGR 2367 class piloted a collaborative educational model with representatives of Worthington Industries, a leader in the diversified metal manufacturing industry headquartered in central Ohio, and one of Worthington’s customers, Select Sires, a Plain City, Ohio-based industry leader in reproductive management solutions for dairy and beef producers.
The two companies presented their real-world problem to the class: they needed a vessel custom designed to effectively and safely transport hundreds of bull semen samples to farmers around the U.S. Select Sires specializes in providing highly fertile, superior genetic products to enhance the productivity and profitability of their customers, dairy and beef producers. The transportation of such a sensitive biological product faces many challenges, from temperature control to complex logistics management. This challenge was not a typical assignment for the undergraduate students, who needed to quickly become knowledgeable about a broad range of topics including livestock breeding, shipping regulations, and the cost, use and limitations of raw materials such as stainless steel and expanded polystyrene.
The course was led by instructor Mary Faure, Director of the Engineering Technical Communications unit in the Department of Engineering Education, while the collaboration with Worthington Industries was facilitated by the Materials and Manufacturing for Sustainability staff at Ohio State’s Institute for Materials Research (IMR), Dr. Jay Sayre, Assistant Vice President, and Kari Roth, Senior Technology Integrator. This multidisciplinary pilot project attempted to fill gaps within the engineering curriculum by offering instruction and practice in communication through a high-quality, industry-led learning experience for students. Industry partners engaged in conversations with students about their teams’ design responses to the problem, allowing the students to gain one-on-one attention from practicing engineers and to hone their interpersonal and communication skills while completing their projects.
“Today’s engineering students need engaging, contextually-positioned technical communications, project management, entrepreneurial thinking, and teamwork instruction and practice in order to perform well in advanced discipline-specific engineering classes, internships, capstone, and in their entry level engineering positions,” said Faure. “This project was designed to provide important skill-building through an authentic, hands-on experience, which today’s students crave, while fulfilling an essential component of the General Education curriculum. It gives students a unique experience without adding credit hours to their curriculum or cost to their college expenses.”
“This wasn’t just a hypothetical situation… It was a very real problem and we talked to real engineers, real businessmen from real companies, to solve a real need.” – Ben Beecroft, second-year student, computer science and engineering
Student design groups were able to present their final designs at an evening event in the new Materials Innovation space on Kinnear Road. Each group was given up to 15 minutes to present their vessel design to the judges, Dr. Bill Benson and Michael Luh from Worthington Industries, and Mel DeJarnette with Select Sires. The lively presentations included videos, prototypes, and many unique suggestions to best transport Select Sires’ bull semen samples across the country safely to its customers. All teams received constructive feedback from the judges, who had the difficult task of selecting a winning design. Worthington Industries generously provided gift cards to all members of the winning team – Alex Machtay, Matt Rowland, Robert Jankovsky, and Adam DeNise.
The industry partners who participated in the pilot said they enjoyed working with the students, were surprised and pleased at the quality of their projects, and would welcome continuing the collaboration in the future with another cohort. One student from this class is now being considered for a summer internship with Worthington Industries.
The hope is that the success of this authentic, interdisciplinary learning experience paves the way for an “integrated curriculum” that crosses college boundaries, offering students of all majors engaging, high-quality learning experiences that more accurately prepare students to be effective in the workplace or in graduate schools regardless of their disciplinary interests.