By Matt Hawkins
With a textbook in one hand and a hammer in the other, some freshmen mechanical engineering majors didn’t wait weeks to first experience Bradley’s engineering shops. Through an innovative twist to one section of the major’s introductory course, lab experiences combined with lectures from the semester’s beginning.
The innovative class traded the traditional format of two class lectures and a separate lab each week for two longer classes that split time between the classroom and mechanical engineering workshops. This enhanced the course’s emphasis on hands-on learning. Students explored the field, its tools and processes. They learned to weld, drill, saw, use lathes and see how water can cut metals. They also discovered how computers can solve engineering problems.
“We wanted to expose students to real engineering as early as possible,” said mechanical engineering department chair Dr. Ahmad Fakheri. “With all the time working together on projects, we expect students to build connections, friendships and a sense of community in the department.”
Students like Charlie Woodard ’21, of Tremont, Ill., used the class to see which engineering field would be best. Torn between mechanical and industrial engineering, he used the class to make his decision.
“This solidified that I wanted to be in mechanical engineering,” he said. “It could’ve been difficult choosing my major, but this class made the difference because I got to see what my future after college would be.”
Projects focused on practical applications in the labs. Students applied those skills to build picture frames and steel hammers for future use. An additional project required students to write a proposal and complete the task. Through the project, students built a shifter for an old pickup, a TV tray and a candy dispenser, among others.
Additionally, students took apart window air conditioners to familiarize themselves with the devices. The project required students to apply basic thermodynamics knowledge and different instruments to measure air conditioner systems and compare actual performance with manufacturers’ claims.
“As one who learns by doing hands-on activities, the class made it easier to understand concepts because we did them right away,” said Megan Voss ’21, of Apple Valley, Minn. “Hands-on learning taught us how to learn the rest of our lives. Because of the approach, we can find ways to fix future problems.”
Beyond gaining problem-solving skills, students recognized the course shortened the learning curve as they looked ahead to advanced courses, internships and, eventually, job opportunities.
“We gained an advantage because we made connections between class and the real world,” Woodard said. “We know how to hear and see concepts, then apply those in new settings.”