Volume 4, Number 2, Spring 2004

Incorporating Sponsored Projects to Design Teaching:
A Reflection on Experience

Gül E. Okudan
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802



This paper first discusses the importance of product design and instilling related skills to engineering students, then summarizes the evolution of the Introduction to Engineering Design course (ED&G 100) at The Pennsylvania State University from a skill-development course to a product-design-oriented course.  It then focuses on embedding engineering management subjects to the course due to its new needs. Project management, teamwork training, motivating, and decision making are some of these subjects.  The progression of embedment over three semesters is presented along with brief design project explanations.  Unsolicited student comments that are collected during teaching evaluations are also presented as an indication of improved student satisfaction with the course.

INDEX TERMS  Product-design education, sponsored projects and engineering management.


New product design efficiency and effectiveness are more important than ever in today’s high-stakes business environment1, 2. In fact, Gupta and Wilemon3 suggested that products, which meet their development budget but come to market late, generate substantially less profit than those that exceed their budget but come to market on time. Attesting to the continuing need to improve product-design efficiency, Boujut and Laureillard1 stated that “New organizations, based on concurrent engineering principles, after many years of experimentation within various companies and industrial domains, still suffer from a lack of efficiency.” Although design efficiency as measured by time to market is critical to the success of new product development efforts, efficiency does not guarantee success.  Accordingly, Walsh4 stated that 90% of new product development team efforts fail, and Flint 2 stated that “... products continue to fail at alarmingly high rates. ,” which indicates the continued importance of effectiveness in the product design process.

In general, product design/development is accomplished by cross-functional design teams. The makeup of these teams is seen as the strongest determinant of new design timeliness5 and product development success6. Furthermore, Sekine et al.7 suggested that product design team activities control 70% of a company’s product quality, cost, and timeliness. Since the 1980s, cross-functional design teams have been widely used8 with a variety of descriptive labels such as concurrent engineering teams, simultaneous engineering teams, or integrated product teams.

Product design teams can be considered a type of project team (e.g., Cohen and Bailey9) in team typologies and are the most widely accepted means of bringing products from initial concept to the commercial stage, even for projects with a budget of $200 billion, spanning over 25 years, and requiring as many as 3000 engineers10. Experts from various disciplines and company departments such as design, manufacturing, quality testing, and marketing work in these teams. The membership of the team depends on the type and characteristics of the product being developed, in addition to customer requirements and other factors deemed important to the product’s development. The mode of operation in the team should be collaborative. Collaboration requires each member to recognize and accept strengths and weaknesses of other team members and share responsibility for group functioning and productivity. In essence, these teams make complex decisions in the product design stage so that downstream issues related to various attributes of the product such as manufacturability and serviceability are anticipated in the early stages of product development8. Moreover, these teams facilitate the continuous communications related to the product as it evolves to satisfy customer and market requirements.

To prepare students for similar responsibilities and to foster engineering principles learning, a comparable setting to product design teams is currently used for several sections of the Introduction to Engineering Design (ED&G 100) course at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State).  ED&G 100 is a first-year engineering course with an enrollment of more than 450 students each semester.  The major course objective is to develop sound problem-solving skills early on in the student’s education.  This is accomplished through skill development focused on two design projects.  The first design project involves building a weighing system using strain gages and beams.  After a series of guided, hands-on experiments and lectures on the mechanical behavior of materials, four-person design teams are asked to build a weighing system that can accurately weigh objects within a specific weight range to a specified resolution.  Team performance for this design project is measured via design demonstrations and an evaluation of each team’s design report.

During this project, a laboratory book11 is used, which includes experiments involving electrical resistor measurement, strain-gage applications, and Wheatstone bridge circuit construction. Teams complete experiments by following step-by-step instructions from this book.  In general, the weighing-system design project is received as a natural conclusion to these experiments by most students. 

The second project, which is industry sponsored, is utilized to create an atmosphere of “an actual working environment” for students via a real design project.  Therefore, every semester, a different industry sponsor is recruited to present a design problem and determine deliverables.  In general, these design projects are open-ended in nature, and clearly they don’t come with step-by-step instructions.  Thus, despite efforts to improve motivation via design competitions, the projects may become a source of frustration for freshmen engineering students who are typically new to dealing with open-ended problems.  Common student complaints are that the projects and lectures are unclear or unorganized, that the workload is unbalanced, that they are given too much work to do in a very short time, and even that they do not know what the next step in their solution should be.

Similar problems and potential solutions have been presented by others.  Koen12 noted that by omitting intermediate deadlines, faculty might be enforcing the increased effort exponentially as the final deadline approaches.  This increased effort in a short time generally creates disputes about unbalanced contributions to the team project, which inevitably decreases team motivation.  However, adding more faculty- imposed deadlines takes away from students’ learning to run their projects. Thus, student-developed schedules have been advocated as a solution13, 14.  However, student schedules alone are not sufficient deterrents to team disputes.

The foci of this paper are (1) the evolution of the ED&G 100 course from a skill-development course to a product-design-oriented course and (2) “unplanned” embedment of engineering management subjects to the course due to its new needs and necessities over a three-semester period.  Unsolicited student comments collected during teaching evaluations are presented as an indication of improved student satisfaction.


The ED&G 100 course was originally a skill-development course with over half the course dedicated to manual graphics instruction and about 25% dedicated to laboratory skills such as instrument use, experimental data acquisition and analysis, and report writing. During the 1980s, graphics instruction was reduced to make room for computer literacy: introductory programming and exposure to CAD software. In 1990, programming was dropped; and in 1991, the first solid modeling software, Silver Screen, was adopted and used until 1998, when IronCAD was introduced. Also in 1991, with NSF funding, a design project was introduced.  The design curriculum has slowly taken over the course, and the name was changed from “Engineering Graphics and Communication” to “Introduction to Engineering Design” in 1995.  The conception of design imparted to students in the course also changed during the 1990s from something both challenging and motivational to something very relevant and focused on real problems in industry and the public sector.  The course now has two design projects: a technology push project based in the strain gage that has its origins in the laboratory curriculum developed in the late 1970s and an open-ended design project usually from industry. Occasionally the second project is in the public sector.

Because of its renewed importance, now product design is taught in order to establish competencies for the next design course rather than just a motivational tool or for professional orientation.  Thus, looking ahead many needs can be identified.  Some of these needs are relevant to engineering management (project scheduling, staffing, budget and risk management, development processes and organizational structures, application of codes and standards, and product planning). The following section summarizes the embedment of several engineering management topics to design curriculum over the course of three semesters.

Embedding Engineering Management to Design Education

The embedment of engineering management topics to design education was not planned and implemented in steps over three semesters.  Rather, it has been a progressive chain of observing problems and implementing remedies in successive semesters in search of an improved way of teaching product design, or engineering design in general, via open-ended problems.  This unique experience is discussed below in three phases involving three different design projects: (1) Kimberly Clark product design project, (2) Marconi Communications product-design-improvement project, and (3) Hazelton campus handicap-access-solution design project.

Phase 1: Kimberly Clark Product Design Project

During fall semester 2000, Kimberly Clark Inc. presented the problem of revisiting the “single-season” product business, to define the manufacturing and corresponding automated process design for a product proposition.  Key deliverables were a market analysis and a prototype of the product; a description of the manufacturing process needed to mass produce the product, and an in-depth analysis (with CAD drawings, documentation, etc.) of one of the components of the manufacturing process.

After design project 1 was completed, students were asked if they wanted to change their teams, which were originally formed by students.  Only two teams out of each section responded as they did.  After reshuffling team members only in those teams, the design project was introduced.  To guide these design teams, product planning, identifying customer needs, product specifications, concept generation, and concept selection were introduced as major components of the development process.  Several intermediate deadlines and a project deadline were determined to set a moderate pace.  Critical path method (CPM) was also introduced, and students were encouraged to plan and complete development activities to meet the deadlines.  Furthermore, they were told that after the project they would be evaluating each other for their contribution to the design process and that project grades would change subject to contribution.

Design project performance was evaluated by peer-design evaluations and design-report assessment.  The weights of these assessments were 25% and 75%, respectively.  Peer-design evaluations were done during the in-class design competition.  While a team was presenting, remaining teams evaluated their design.  It was observed that students took evaluating peers very seriously; hence a meaningful design discussion after every presentation surfaced.  During this peer evaluation and peer critiquing time, integrity and ethics were strongly emphasized.

Despite the fact that most students received the competition environment very well, and one of the teams won the overall competition out of 112 teams, some performance-limiting issues have been observed.  Teamwork ineffectiveness, miscommunication, and inefficient use of time were among these.  As a set of remedies for these problems, a team-building activity and teamwork-skills interventions were added to the course, and the course was run including these during spring 2001 semester.

Phase 2: Marconi Communications Product-Design-Improvement Project

The second project for the spring 2001 semester was sponsored by Marconi Communications Inc.  The objective was to design a shipping crate to house the Marconi Communications BXR-48000 switch, which weighs 700 lbs. and has dimensions of 73.5 x 21.2 x 23.62 in.  The crate is for use during manufacture of the switch and shipment to the end user.  Other design requirements for the crate included the ability to maneuver the crate with only two people without using a forklift and the ability to reuse the crate.  The design project and its objectives were conveyed to all teams at the same time.  Each team was given eight weeks to develop their design solution.  All teams were instructed to act during this time as if they were companies competing to get Marconi’s shipping crate business with their solution. 

For this project, teams were formed randomly.  Again, randomly selected one half of the teams were given three two-hour high-performing team-skills training, while others were provided engineering problem-solving assistance as is typically provided for the ED&G 100 students.  The training offered to the randomly selected sample of eight design teams was varied, and in general, it became more complex with each intervention.  A brief description of the content of each intervention is described below.

Intervention 1 Earthquake Exercise:  The first intervention consisted of a simple earthquake exercise used to demonstrate that individuals working in teams typically perform better than individuals working alone on the same task.  This intervention was conducted after the design project was given to the design teams 

Intervention 2 Role Playing of Group Development Stages: The second intervention was conducted during the fourth week of the final design project.  During this intervention, stages of group development were introduced: forming, storming, norming, and transforming/high performing.  Following this introduction, each team was asked to develop a role- play scenario depicting a specific stage of development (i.e., one team developed a scenario and acted out the forming stage).  Though initially uncomfortable with the notion of role-playing, the student teams performed well, and their role-plays were consistent with the stage of group development that they were required to act out.  The teaching point reinforced was that teams undergo a tangible, somewhat predictable developmental process and that at times group development is uncomfortable.

Intervention 3 After-Action Reviews (AARs): This intervention was conducted during the seventh week of the final design project.  Design teams were led in a brief discussion of the theory and execution of AARs, which included a 3-step method to (1) review and analyze what went well, (2) review and analyze those things that did not go well, and (3) offer recommendations for improving those things that did not go well during team projects.  After the discussion of the AAR process, student teams were then required to conduct an internal AAR to evaluate their own team’s performance up to that point of the design project.  The students valued the opportunity to engage in meaningful team analysis using the three-step AAR method.  They reported their findings to other groups and, predictably, came to understand that other teams shared similar problems and successes.  The teaching point reinforced was that self-assessment is a useful technique for monitoring and improving the performance of teams.

Design team performance was measured using team quizzes, design demonstrations (during which designs were evaluated by peers), and an evaluation of each team’s design report.  The grading weight of the team quiz was 5%.  Twenty five percent of the remaining 95% of the project grade (23.75%) was allocated as the weight of the peer-design evaluation, and 75% of the remaining 95% of the project grade (71.25%) was assigned for the design-report assessment.  These weights were used to establish a project grade for each design team.  However, in order to finalize each team member’s grade, the other team members were asked to rate the contribution of that person to the team’s design solution.  Their contribution grade was then used to establish a multiplier to determine their project grade.

A team quiz is an assessment during which a set of questions is answered by a team of four in 15 minutes.  Only one member would need one hour to solve the same set of questions.  The time allowed for completion of the team quiz was adjusted based on the group size.  However, for absent/late members, no time adjustment was permitted.  The purpose of giving team quizzes was to help students learn that they are interdependent, and hence it was added as a team-building activity.  Three quizzes during project 1 and two team quizzes during project 2 were given throughout the semester.  It was observed that on team quiz days, attendance improved, and students showed effort not to disappoint their teams.

Major product development process components were introduced as was done the previous semester.  In addition, the teams were asked to study the development process of at least two companies via an Internet search before identifying the activities they will schedule using CPM.  The objective was to have teams adopt their own design process and define relevant activities. 

Despite the initial complaints for changing their teams by randomization before the final project, students were not vocal about team-related problems throughout the project.  The intervention topics were appropriate - - particularly the earthquake exercise and the AAR exercise.  Some unsolicited comments indicated that interventions were not given early enough for them to use effectively.  Some resistance was encountered during the role-playing intervention from a few students with statements such as “Why are we learning this stuff?” or “We don’t want to be leaders; we want to be engineers!”  Furthermore, it was observed that separating the design teams for giving training only to one half of the teams raised questions and made them uncomfortable.

Phase 3: Hazelton Campus Handicap-Access-Solution Project.  This project involved the solution to a handicapped access need at Penn State’s Hazelton campus.  This campus provides residence hall accommodations for 485 students.  In addition, the hall’s food court provides meals for resident students, faculty, staff, and visitors.  The food court building and residence halls are located near the main entrance of campus, at an elevation ranging approximately 1575' to 1600' above sea level.  All other campus facilities are located at an elevation of approximately 1710'.  Getting from the lower portion of campus to the upper part is accomplished by either walking directly up a steep pathway, which is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) for slope and design, or directly on the main road, which is non-compliant for slope.  Driving is an option, but parking is limited.  In order for the campus community to be able to access the facilities without having to drive, finding a solution that offers flexibility, convenience, ease of use, and accessibility for people with disabilities was the design task.  Thus, teams were required to design a mechanical, manual, or service system that will provide access for people with disabilities and the non-disabled population.

Project deliverables were traffic analysis, CAD drawings, projected costs (construction and operation), a scale model prototype, and design documentation.  For this project, the performance was measured using team quizzes, peer-design evaluations, and design-report evaluations.  The weights of these grades were 5%, 23.75%, and 71.25%, respectively, as was previous semester.

During this phase, team formation, peer evaluations within teams, determination of project due dates, and timing and topic of teamwork interventions were modified.  Teams were formed to have teams with similar average GPAs because a study of the previous semester’s results showed the average team GPA to have a significant effect on team performances (Okudan et al.15).  After studying the product development process, students were encouraged to set their own intermediate due dates.  The final project due date was set to be the in-class design competition date.

The peer evaluation within teams was done for both design projects.  Since teams were not changed for the second project, the individual contribution values calculated after design project 1 were not revealed until teams were done with the second round of peer evaluations.  Instead, a half-hour class period was dedicated for them to discuss their performance and how to improve performances individually and as a team.  However, on the last day of the class, each student was given his peer-evaluated contribution value, and teams were encouraged to discuss the values if anyone thought there was unfairness. 

Team-skills interventions were conducted for all teams four times for two hours each for a total of eight hours starting earlier in the semester in comparison to the previous set of interventions.  The type of training offered or order of delivery during this intervention series was modified.  Following the earthquake exercise, the AAR training was presented.  Then, personality type training was offered.  This intervention briefly introduced the personality type theory followed up with a confidential on line questionnaire (http://www.keirsey.com). The questionnaire categorized students into four groups based on dimensions of extroversion and introversion, intuition and sensing, thinking and feeling, and judgment and perception.  Learning about their personality type created a discussion environment for the effect of personality type on project performance. 

Role playing was replaced with strategic planning intervention. During this intervention, importance of planning one’s life and the efficient use of time for becoming higher achievers were discussed.  Students were encouraged to apply these same principles to their design project.


Overall, after the embedment of various engineering management topics and relevant activities, a decrease in student complaints was observed.  Although it is not possible to identify the isolated effect of each of these embedded topics and activities, an aggregate indication of student satisfaction is presented in Table 1.  The information given in Table 1 is compiled from the unsolicited comments relevant to design project 2 collected during teaching evaluations for the course over three semesters.  In the table, the numbers of positive comments and that of negative comments are categorized into various themes relevant to design project 2, such as organization, clarity, teamwork, and the amount of work.

Table 1 also shows the overall quality of instruction and overall quality of the course as documented by the teaching evaluations.


Table 1.  Compiled Unsolicited Student Comments About Design Project 2.


Focus of comments

Design Projects


Kimberly Clark Project

Phase I - Fall 2001

Marconi Comm. Project

Phase II - Spring 2001

Hazelton Campus Project

Phase III - Fall 2001



































Project overall







Amount of work







Design lab time







# of evaluators




Overall quality of instruction




Overall quality of the course




It is clearly seen that both the quality of instruction and the quality of the course have improved.  Since the instructor is not changed from one semester to another, these improvements are explained with the embedment of engineering management topics to the original engineering design curriculum.  Accordingly, compiled unsolicited student comments show an increase in the number of positive teamwork relevant comments and in the number of positive design project relevant comments.

Based on the experience gained throughout the above-mentioned three semesters and a thorough review of the contemporary product design literature, the author and a colleague from the same department were led to write a new textbook, which includes the engineering management topics embedded: Engineering Design: A Practical Guide16. The course is now taught in a way that naturally integrates collaborative design, project management, and decision-making issues to the product-design curriculum.


The paper discusses the progressive chain of observing problems and implementing potential solutions in successive semesters in search of an improved way of teaching product design via open-ended problems.  The implementation of potential remedies resulted in an embedment of engineering management topics and relevant activities to the course, such as team building (team quizzes), teamwork-skills training, project management (identifying activities, determining due dates, and CPM), and motivation (peer evaluations within teams).  Although it is not possible to identify the isolated effect of each of these, an aggregate indication of student satisfaction is presented.  Overall, it is observed that student satisfaction relevant to the quality of instruction and the quality of the course has increased.  This is attributed to the embedment of engineering management topics and relevant activities to the engineering design curriculum.


1. Boujut, J.F., and P. Laureillard, “A Co-operation Framework for Product-Process Integration in Engineering Design,” Design Studies, Vol. 23, 2002, pp. 497-513.

2. Flint, D.J., “Compressing New Product Success-To-Success Cycle Time: Deep Customer Value Understanding and Idea Generation,” Industrial Marketing Management, Vol. 31, 2002, pp. 305-315.

3. Gupta, A.K., and D.L. Wilemon, “Accelerating the Development of Technology-Based Products,” California Management Review, Vol. 32, No. 2, 1990, pp. 24-44.

4. Walsh, W., “Get the Whole Organization Behind the New Product Development,” Research Technology Management, Vol. 33, No. 6, 1990, pp. 32-36.


5. Cooper, R.G., “Debunking the Myths of New Product Development,” Research Technology Management, Vol. 37, No. 4, 1994, pp. 40-50.

6. Takeuchi, H., and I. Nonaka, “The New Product Development Game,” Harvard Business Review, Vol. 64, 1986, pp. 137-146.

7. Sekine, K., K. Arai, and N. Bodek, Design Team Revolution: How to Cut Lead Times in Half and Double Your Productivity, New York, New York: Productivity Press, 1994.

8. Clark, K. B. and T. Fujimoto, Product Development Performance: Strategy, Organization, and Management in the World Auto Industry, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1991.

9. Cohen, S. G., and D.E. Bailey, “What Makes Teams Work: Group Effectiveness Research from the Shop Floor to the Executive Suite,” Journal of Management, Vol. 23, 1997, pp. 239-290.

10. McGraw, D., “The Sky’s the Limit,” ASEE Prism, March, 2003, pp. 36-39.

11. Kallas, N., and D. Sathianathan, Designing a Weighing System Using Strain Gages and Beams,   Plymouth, Michigan: Hayden-McNeil Publishing, Inc., 1997.

12. Koen, B.V., “Toward a Strategy for Teaching Engineering Design,” Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 38, No. 3, 1994, pp. 193-201.

13. Fentiman, A.W., and J.T. Demel, J.T., “Teaching Students to Document a Design Project and Present the Results,” Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 84, No. 4, 1995, pp. 329, 333.

14. Moor, S.S., and B.D. Drake, “Addressing Common Problems in Engineering Design Projects: A Project Management Approach,” Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 90, No. 3, 2001, 389-395.

15. Okudan, G.E., D. Horner, and M. Russell, “Injecting high performing team skills to engineering design teams: Is it doable?,” Proceedings, The 5th International Conference on Engineering Design and Automation (EDA2001), Las Vegas, Nevada, 2001, pp. 404-408.

16. Ogot, M., and G. Okudan-Kremer, Engineering Design: A Practical Guide, St. Victoria, B.C., Canada: Trafford Publishers, 2004.