Engineering alpha

From left to right: Zach Vincent, Sebastian Klesing and Kaelyn Lundry drop a marble into a device they designed and built for an Intro to Engineering Design class. Photo by B.A. Rupert.

From left to right: Zach Vincent, Sebastian Klesing and Kaelyn Lundry drop a marble into a device they designed and built for an Intro to Engineering Design class. Photo by B.A. Rupert.

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Missouri S&T’s engineering students can change the shape of the local economy. In the fall of 2013, Rolla residents were hard-pressed to find a glass marble for sale within a five-mile radius of S&T. Yes, budding engineers had bought a city out of marbles. The children’s toy was an important component in last semester’s IDE 20 design project.

IDE 20 is the Introduction to Engineering Design course that all S&T engineering students must take. Approximately 560 students were enrolled in the fall 2013 semester’s course, taught by Ryan Hutcheson, assistant teaching professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

The fall 2013 project required students to build a device that projects marbles toward a series of hollow, cylindrical targets that stand approximately 6 inches tall. Each target was assigned a fixed point value, with the farthest of the three targets worth the most points.

One hundred forty teams of three to five students had to design and build their own, original machines. The device had to fit within a 36- by 36-inch rectangular area on a welding table and be less than 72 inches tall. The devices the students designed could be human or battery-powered (with up to 1 kilogram of battery mass).

“This semester, the class ran the Rolla Walmart out of marbles several times,” says Hutcheson. “A few years before it was eggs and, one time, we bought the Rolla Lowe’s out of sledgehammers. It comes down to a lot of students having the same solution to a problem and having the same deadline.”

The teams spend hours in a small workshop inside the Interdisciplinary Engineering Building on the S&T campus. Students’ devices are generally constructed from PVC pipe, plywood or 2x4s. Duct tape is a staple of many projects. The students are surrounded by measuring levels, saws and drilling machines as they learn teamwork and communication skills.

“It is a basic class to introduce students to design and interdisciplinary work,” explains Hutcheson. “The class serves to teach students how to think and work as engineers and the documentation that accompanies that process.”

By Peter Ehrhard


  1. Ashok Midha says

    Generally, precious little is done in most engineering curricula to prepare students for real-life, open-ended problem solving through the years. Less than ten percent of the student credit hours is devoted to courses with significant design content. Frequently, student lack of preparation and faculty discomfort with design practice, coupled with inadequate facilities/infrastructure, create an ineffective environment for undertaking a design project. Matters worsen when high expectations are placed on students by faculty and project sponsor alike. The MAE Department is duly sensitized to this need, and a systematic emphasis is being placed at various levels to enhance student skills and confidence level, and empower students to be able to meet the high expectations.

    Dr. Ryan Hutcheson has shown much initiative and leadership, and has been very proactive in significantly contributing to these enhancements in this service course IDE 20: Introduction to Engineering Design. This is an important course, as it is for many the first experience in team effort, solving open-ended problems, and creativity and conceptualization. Kudos to Dr. Hutcheson and his team for imparting such quality experiences to so many through this yeoman endeavor!

  2. This kind of project is really great for engineering students. To explore their dream to be skillful engineer in the future, this is like a basic test. This activity is not only training their skills but also including with teamwork basis. For them to develop any new technology or product it is difficult to work by single person. To work in professional career, they need to coordinate with others to come up with reasonable or achievable solution. Time and resource limitation are also part of planning and logical skills which good engineer must have.