Penn State mechanical engineering to innovate curriculum

New required classes to impart additional computational, modeling skills to undergraduate students studying mechanical engineering, beginning in the fall of 2020


By Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In its educational mission to prepare students for an impactful and successful career in a rapidly changing technological landscape, the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) has announced several curriculum changes to be implemented in the fall of 2020.

Eric Marsh, the Glenn Professor of Engineering Education and undergraduate program coordinator, said, “We are advancing the curriculum to make better use of the computing power that only in recent years has caught up with an engineer’s imagination.”

Two new courses, which have been offered previously as pilot programs, will become required for all mechanical engineering undergraduate students. The first is ME 454, a 3-credit course in mechatronics, which will focus on the integration of mechanical hardware, sensors and actuators and computer control. The second, ME 330, is a 3-credit computer modeling and simulation course. While the required number of credits will remain the same, some courses were eliminated and others were tailored to include core topics important to a mechanical engineering degree.

Together, these classes aim to impart additional skills, particularly in the student’s ability to harness modern, computer-based analysis tools and to provide hands-on experience with the key aspects of mechatronics systems.

In its pilot phase, faculty members have already noted a positive impact of these courses, particularly in the senior design capstone project, where students are charged with a real-world project provided by an industry partner.

“This interplay between mechanical and electrical professional worlds is ever growing, as more industries become automated while looking for efficiency, productivity and performance gains,” Gary Neal, the director of the capstone design projects in mechanical engineering, said. “This is also true with their capstone design projects. These multidisciplinary projects routinely require an interaction between mechanical, electrical and controls disciplines.”

This shift will also introduce ME 390 and 490, half-credit career and professional development courses, to the required curriculum. The topics covered in these classes will expand beyond those found in a traditional engineering class, such as entrepreneurship, global engineering, diversity, equity and inclusion, project management, ethics and personal finance. Topics for these two courses were developed based on feedback from students and in collaboration with industry partners.

Students who joined the mechanical engineering major during the fall of 2019 or beyond will participate in the new curriculum. More information on the academic plans can be found on the undergraduate programs website.

The need to continually evaluate and innovate the education provided by the department is especially critical to the Industrial and Professional Advisory Council (IPAC), an advisory board comprised of representatives from industry, government agencies, and academia that provides input on the department’s offerings.

“The IPAC members were big drivers of this change,” Marsh said. “They represent our student’s future employers and they want our students to have these skills.”


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Megan Lakatos