Santa Clara University


Innovating Inside the Box

If you were given a marble and a three-sided cardboard box and told you had to design the space within to allow the marble to enter 10 in. above the base on one side and exit 10 ¼ in. above the base on the other, could you do it?

This was the challenge presented to 170 freshmen engineering students as the final project of Introduction to Engineering 1 (ENGR 1) in December. Working in pairs, the newbies crafted a seemingly limitless panorama of imaginative solutions by incorporating pulleys, homemade motors, ramps, buoyancy, and even a burst of air to complete the task. Rubber bands, duct tape, legos, remote-controlled car parts, and recycled cardboard were common ingredients of the finished products that were judged by peers and guests for frugality, ingenuity, and aesthetic qualities. The crowd favorite depicted the marble making its way through Santa’s workshop via a ramp and a motor-powered “staircase.”  

ENGR 1_aesthetic
From left: Kevin Boehnlein, Justin Visas, Hannah Dunrud, Maor Bernstein, and Philip Mirenda
Photo: Jenpop Allport

Students were well primed for their task, as the course includes a weekly 3-hour lab in addition to the lecture component. Lab activities focused on the problem-solving challenges found within each discipline offered in the School of Engineering (bio-, civil, computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering) through assignments such as building a thermos, programming robots, and investigating sensors that can enable an iPad, check your pulse, or control an accelerometer; while class presentations introduced students to the design process, frugal innovation for emerging markets, ethical concerns, extreme engineering, and strategies for success both at SCU and beyond.  

In addition to merely exposing students to the wide range of career opportunities and the boundless possibilities for making a difference in the world through engineering, the goals of the course are to have the freshmen recognize their chosen field of study as the noble profession that it is while also providing a forum for thinking deeply about their place within the discipline. So, coupled with their final design project, they were also required to write their own short- and long-term aspirations and goals.

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