As the complexity of cutting edge products increases with advances in technology, there is a need to include activities in the undergraduate curriculum that allow students to learn basic systems engineering concepts, that promote the development of their systems thinking skills, and that allow them to practice these skills. To this end, the aim of this work was to impact students’ systems thinking skills at an early stage of their mechanical engineering curriculum, develop assessment tools to measure sophomore-level mechanical engineering students’ system thinking skills, and observe trends in measured systems thinking skills both before and after exposure to a new sophomore design course.
This paper provides an overview of the new course, gives details about an Engineering Systems Thinking Survey (ESTS) that was developed to assess systems thinking skills in specific areas, and presents the results of the ESTS from implementation of the course during two separate semesters. The specific areas that were targeted were identification of customer needs, setting target product specifications, concept generation, and systems architecture. The survey results showed that the course was successful in improving students’ self-efficacy on each of the four topics, particularly in setting target specifications and systems architecture. In addition, comparisons of pre- and post-ESTS results showed improvements in student answers on the technical questions related to identification of customer needs, setting target product specifications, and concept generation, with a slight decrease in the area of systems architecture.
While the newly developed course was successful in the dissemination of fundamental systems thinking and systems engineering concepts among students, the survey results indicated the need to strengthen students’ awareness of concept implementation. Future work will explore how to improve the course activities to help students learn how to apply the concepts, particularly for the topics of setting target specifications and systems architecture.