The undergraduate engineering curriculum at our institution is replete with both problem-based and project-based learning components. This paper focuses on the third and most complex methodology needed to prepare students for a successful career in engineering: inquiry-based learning (IBL). With IBL, students learn with the aid of mentoring how to develop and answer a research question. However, IBL requires a significant time-investment, both in and outside the classroom. This is one of the teaching challenges within lecture-based thermo-fluids courses, where the coverage of required material does not allow much time for both IBL and development of field-specific simulation skills. Additional challenges include the reliance on mathematical tools that often hamper student understanding of the underlying phenomena and difficulty in providing immersive and exciting visuals that support in-depth learning.

An IBL component was incorporated into a simulation-based design in two successive junior year courses: fluid mechanics and heat transfer. Both courses were modified to contain scaffolded and contextualized simulations with application building that develop: (a) technical competency by developing modeling skills, (b) deeper understanding of thermofluids by solving realistic technological problems, and (c) writing skills by producing technical reports for each simulation.

Companies are increasingly using simulation applications to extend the benefits of product and process models beyond engineering to other internal business functions such as manufacturing, product development, and sales technical support. Applications involve creating a simplified interface that still contains the full efficacy of the underlying model without having to expose the end user to its complexity. An ‘Application’ building component adds a new skillset that further strengthens our program graduates.

Consequently, supported by mentoring, students now integrate prior skills into an independent research initiative. They propose, plan and execute a design that is of their interest, relevant to the course topics, and suitable in rigor. In parallel with skillset and technical knowledge building, strategies and resources are introduced to engage students in a research topic of their choosing. This process includes preparing a statement of work, reviewing relevant literature, completing a technical study, and documenting the results. The results to date are presented along with some examples of student projects.

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