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New course aims to put engineering design in context

Renata Revelo

Clinical Associate Professor Renata A. Revelo wants students introduced to engineering design sooner in their college careers. She is developing a course that will provide sophomores and juniors hands-on design experience, something many ECE students do not attain until their senior year, as part of the college’s senior design courses.

Revelo, who oversees the senior design capstone sequence of ECE 396, Senior Design I, and ECE 397, Senior Design II, also wants students to gain a more robust understanding of the nuances around engineering design, considering the impact of engineering solutions in global, economic, environmental, historical, and societal contexts.

“We will be looking at design examples to understand the problem, and everything around it,” Revelo said. “It’s a chance for students to get engaged in something of their own early on in their college careers.”

This course will include understanding basics such as knowing your market by identifying competing products and competitors who are producing the same product you hope to make. Additionally, the course will provide a deeper look at the impact on humans and the environment from particular design decisions. In smartphones, for example, this may include finding ways to optimize or re-use cobalt, a conflict mineral, in the phone’s battery to reduce overall demand for the mineral.

Students will receive input from community organizations on some problems, allowing them to keep the goals and desires of people in the real world in mind as they work through potential solutions.

The guiding framework for this contextual reframing of engineering design will be critical consciousness. Revelo said this focus on critical consciousness, and the ability to reflect and act on overcoming sociopolitical barriers is a process that can assist minoritized populations, those who have had to face issues of racism or ableism.

“This course can help any student learning design and critical consciousness to become better engineers,” Revelo said. “But for students who are minoritized, it is a way to validate their own ways of thinking and their engineering way of thinking.”

Revelo received over $185,000  from the National Science Foundation for this project, Teaching Engineering Design with a Contextual Perspective, as part of a three-year collaborative grant with Joel Alejandro Mejia of the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Both UIC and UTSA are designated Hispanic Serving Institutions. This is one of three concurrent grants Revelo has in the area of engineering education.

The course will be offered for the first time in the Spring 2023 semester.