How to Prepare Your Engineering Students for Careers with Project-based Learning


This August, SolidProfessor hosted a Virtual Education Summit for industry professionals and educators at the K-12 and postsecondary levels. The summit comprised more than 15 sessions led by both industry experts and experienced instructors.

One of the most popular sessions was hosted by seasoned engineering professors Dr. Rudy Ottway and Dr. Rustin Webster. As an Associate Professor at Murray State University, Dr. Ottway currently works at the Institute of Engineering teaching SOLIDWORKS, AutoCAD, and engineering drawing. Similarly, Dr. Webster teaches SOLIDWORKS and specializes in mechanical engineering and computer graphics technology at Purdue University.

In Dr. Ottway and Dr. Webster’s session at the SolidProfessor Virtual Education Summit, the professors discussed how project-based learning prepares students for future careers.

Project-based learning helps students stay engaged while developing countless skills in the process.

Project-based learning is a form of active learning. Projects are context-specific, students engage in a dynamic learning process, and goals are accomplished through social interaction. Through project-based learning, engineering students gain experience in both the technical and soft skills that are required to succeed after graduation. In the session, both professors elaborate on how they design hands-on engineering projects for their students.

How you can implement project-based learning into your engineering curriculum in 7 steps

Here are Dr. Ottway’s seven steps to implement a design-build project that gives students career-ready technical and soft skills.

Step 1: Have students generate ideas and take time to think about a particular product. Brainstorming a project allows students to think more freely and encourages critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Step 2: Ask your students to create sketches (three to seven detailed drawings), which increase the speed students can produce a CAD model. Similar to brainstorming, creating detailed sketches promotes thinking skills and gives students a baseline to work from..

Step 3: Have students create CAD models in SOLIDWORKS or other engineering software. Creating a CAD model is the first draft in the process of product engineering and it gives students the opportunity to refine their skills software professionals use in the real world.

Step 4: After students have created their CAD models, discuss each student’s model in a preliminary design review. During the design review, students can practice their presentation skills by sharing the thought process behind their model. Through constructive feedback from their peers and instructor, students can then adjust their model in the next step.

Step 5: Let students refine their CAD model based on feedback from the design review. In this step, students should revise their design based on the peer-review. This will also give them a chance to fix any mistakes from their initial design.

Step 6: Have students manufacture either a prototype or a full model, just as they would in a professional setting. Here, we see the CAD model come to life as students finalize their product.

Step 7: Students share their prototypes or full models through a final design review. Through these conversations, students progress their soft skills and will need to reflect on their experience completing the project.

After walking the attendees through each step, Dr. Ottway and Dr. Webster present projects teachers can use in their virtual or in-person classroom. Some of these projects include building a catapult, designing reunion gifts for alumni, manufacturing games, and creating small robots by using SOLIDWORKS, engineering, and drawings. Each project continues to develop technical and soft skills, preparing students for future careers and beyond.

Adapting to distance learning doesn’t have to mean giving up hands-on projects.

hands-on engineering projects

In regards to learning in a virtual classroom, Dr. Webster recommends moving away from team-based projects and instead provide more materials so students can sit at home and complete projects without relying on others. Dr. Webster mentions how SolidProfessor helps a tremendous amount in the virtual classroom by keeping students engaged, as virtual settings are nothing new to us. Though some projects require machines and equipment students don’t have, almost every activity Dr. Ottway and Dr. Webster discuss can be manipulated as a virtual or in-person project.

Hold your students accountable and improve their soft skills through collaboration.

To help students successfully manage time and improve soft skills, Dr. Webster suggests integrating into your projects. It’s a free website that students and teachers can use for collaboration. Students can work in real-time and it’s designed to be used for brainstorming and managing projects remotely. Dr. Ottway requires a weekly team meeting so students can delegate tasks to one another. Plus, meeting weekly helps replicate a real-world situation and holds students accountable for completing certain aspects of the project on time.

Watch the full presentation to learn more about how you can engage your engineering students and prepare them for careers with project-based learning.

Zoe Metalios
About the Author

SolidProfessor Marketing Intern and a certified foodie!