Curriculum Element: Design Project to Solve Real Life Engineering Problems

Return to Curriculum Elements »

Author: Mark Edelen, Howard Community College

Short Description: Students in this design course can work as a team to solve real life engineering problems, and in the process, get an insight into the limitations imposed by structure, cost and design.

Implementation Levels: Introductory Engineering Design courses. Examples: Statics (ENES 120) at Howard Community College; Mechanics I (ENES 102) at the University of Maryland.


Engineering design is one of the effective pathways to challenge students’ creativity and provide opportunity to develop their analytical/technical skills. Engineering students can be introduced to the concepts like each problem having more than one valid/feasible solution and uncertainty and assumptions in the design process. Students are given 6-7 weeks to design a truss bridge to satisfy requirements and constraints specified by the assignment. The assignment describes in detail the expectations in terms of design plan, process, constraints and costs involved. Student teams function as engineering design firm responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) from a railroad company. The railroad needs a bridge to span a ravine (site drawing is provided to students). Working in groups, students are faced with the reality of limitations in terms of structure, funds and the designing process. Students have to submit a written report and also present their design to the “customers”. Students’ feedback was positive and most of them described the design experience as invaluable and that it helped them to better understand the design process, and to appreciate team work.