Design courses in engineering play an important role to enhance development of competencies needed by students to excel in the 21st century workplace. Problems solved by undergraduate students in engineering programs are mostly well-structured, while real world engineering problems are most likely to be ill-structured and complex. These ill-structured problems have vaguely defined goals and constraints, which demand graduates to apply the learnt knowledge beyond the understanding of fundamental concepts. To prepare and educate the future workforce for engineering workplace, we must provide them with opportunities to learn how to internalize the principles of design and to develop competencies to tackle ill-structured problems through an authentic, immersive experience that involves designing, building and testing an artifact. In this paper, we use students’ self-reported level of competencies to see how students develop competencies and how the inter-relationships among these competencies change overtime in a senior-level design course. We performed this study in Principles of Design course, during fall semester of 2014, where students addressed an ill-structured design problem. Five questionnaires were developed and administered for self-reported assessment of competencies by students. The development of competencies was tracked over time across all five surveys, followed by t-tests to identify the significant patterns of change in the developed competency level. Students showed lack of confidence in competencies related to understanding problem, requirements, concept generation and selection. Communication did not vary significantly throughout the semester. The relationships among the competencies were examined using the correlational analysis at each point and over time to identify the core competencies. Competencies related to communication, understanding problem and understanding requirements are found to be the core competencies as the development of other competencies are dependent on the level of these competencies. Recommendations have been made to modify the course in the areas of core competencies, where students lack confidence. We believe continuous improvement of student professional competencies through course modifications will help students to develop more professional competencies in a semester long design course.

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