Often engineering design instruction based on real-world, client-based projects is relegated to a final year capstone course. The engineering program at James Madison University (JMU), however, emphasizes these real-world, client-based design experiences, and places them throughout our six-course engineering design sequence. Our six-course design sequence is anchored by the sophomore design course sequence, which serves as the cornerstone to the JMU engineering design sequence. The cornerstone experience in the sophomore year is meant to enable mastery through both directed and non-directed learning and exploration of the design process and design tools. To that end, students work in both small (4–5) and large (9–11) teams to complete a year-long design project. The course project is woven with instruction in engineering design theory and methodology; individual cognitive processes, thinking, and communication skills; decision making; sustainable design; problem solving; software; and project management.

Students’ overarching task during the first semester is to follow the first two phases of the engineering design process—Planning and Concept Generation—while in the second semester, students work to reiterate on the first two phases of the engineering design process before prototyping, testing, and refining a design for the client. The project culminates with the students demonstrating their final product to the client, University, and local community.

Our goal in this paper is to present our model for integrating real-world, client-based design projects into the sophomore year to facilitate meaningful design experiences across the curriculum. We believe that providing these experiences early and often not only challenges students on multiple dimensions, but also exposes them, and consequently better prepares them, for their eventual role as a practicing engineer. In this paper, we shall describe the sophomore design course sequence, the history and details of the course project, and also key learning outcome gains.

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