Ribbon-cutting marks new era for mechanical engineering undergraduates

Opening of the ME Knowledge Lab, a hub for undergraduate lab classes, coincides with the launch of a revitalized curriculum


By Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Sept. 10, the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its newest facility, the ME Knowledge Lab. This event marked a new era for the unit’s undergraduate education through both the new lab and the launch of a revitalized curriculum.

Before the construction of the ME Knowledge Lab, located in the basement of the Reber building, the space was mostly unusable by students. The 180-degree transformation, which began in the fall of 2020, created a dynamic and forward-thinking space for undergraduate students to attend lab classes, work hands-on with the latest technology and collaborate for an enhanced experience, according to Mary Frecker, ME department head.

“We are so excited to welcome our students into the new facility,” said Frecker, who also is the Riess Chair in Engineering and the director of the Penn State Center for Biodevices. “With the successful construction, in tandem with the new curriculum, our students will be better prepared to begin their careers as mechanical engineers.”

The new laboratory classes are designed to focus on real-world problems and to challenge students to concentrate on systems-level topics that center around sustainability, big data, bioengineering, autonomy and robotics, advanced manufacturing and energy.

The classes also encourage critical-thinking skills, instead of replicating experiments. For example, students are tasked with understanding how a smart watch classifies human activity. By reviewing basic statistics for data analysis and applying statistical knowledge to extract features from data, they learn to understand the data input and output relationship to create their own custom algorithm.

“By creating spaces that not only encourage engineering ingenuity, but also facilitate such work, we’re setting ourselves and — more importantly — the future, our students, up for success,” Justin Schwartz, the Harold and Inge Marcus Dean in the College of Engineering, said at the event.


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VIDEO: ME Knowledge Lab marks new era for ME undergraduates.


ME Knowledge Lab