ASEE Prism Magazine
My Job Lies Over The Ocean
The De-Ice Man Cometh
Connecting The Dots
On Politics
Teaching Toolbox
ASEE Today
Professional Opportunities - Classifieds
Last Word
Back Issues

On Campus


Last spring, mechanical engineering professor Ramana M. Pidaparti decided to shake up his senior design class. As usual in the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis class, Pidaparti split his students into groups to work on projects. Two of those groups he watched especially closely: One was composed of engineering students, the other engineering students and a wildcard—an art student. Pidaparti says he wanted to see the effect an art student's input would have on the final design.

The assignment was to build a prototype exhibit that would allow Indianapolis Zoo visitors to safely interact with the zoo's recently acquired rhinos. “A rhino is about 5,000 pounds,” says Pidaparti, “and the idea was to give people a feeling for the power of the animal,” without them having to get into the pen.

Pidaparti's involvement with art began two years ago when he asked Greg Hull, an assistant professor of sculpture at the university, to speak to his design class. “I thought I'd be talking about the differences between [engineering and artistic design],” Hull recalls, “but ended up talking more about the similarities.” The differences, he says, are apparent more at the end: An engineer ultimately designs for a customer, an artist for an audience.

The art student came into the brainstorming phase of the design process and offered a different perspective. “We had been trying to get them [the engineering students] to draw from their life experiences and broaden the range of possibilities,” Hull says. The art student helped them do this and improve the final design, Pidaparti says.

A jury of faculty and industry guests agreed, giving them the best design award for the spring 2003 semester at the university's Mechanical Engineering Design Day. “The president of the Indianapolis Zoo was really impressed with their design,” Pidaparti adds.

The group designed a rhino mask that simulated the animal's ability to see in two different directions at the same time. They also built a prototype “rumbling bridge” that detects rhino movement with sensors and, using motors attached to the bridge underside, transfers the vibrations, damped to a human-comfortable level, to the bridge.

Based on the success of this group, Pidaparti says he plans to include art students into future design projects.



From its bucolic corner of the country, Vermont has been pitching in to keep the nation's engineering-student pipeline full. This past June, 88 high school students from around the country came again to Burlington for the Engineering, Mathematics, and Computer Science Institute. Over nine days, they stayed in the University of Vermont dorms and, through a busy schedule of lectures and workshops, explored multiple engineering disciplines as well as statistics, mathematics, and computer science.

They also got a taste of college life by attending lectures by engineering and mathematics professors. But they didn't spend all their time parked in lecture halls. “I don't like the lecture format,” says Dawn Densmore, executive director of the Institute. “I like the students to be engaged in what's being taught.” Augmenting the lectures were field trips to, among other places, IBM and Ben and Jerry's facilities and to water treatment plants.

On-campus activities included a robotics competition calling on students to build robots from remote-control cars and computer parts. Once built, the robots were adorned with a team flag and sent into battle for the right to plant it atop a four foot ramp. In another activity, students engaged in what Densmore terms “garbology,” going through a bag of garbage to see what was thrown out and what could have been recycled.

Though meant to be fun, the program has its share of rigor. Students must apply and, once accepted, are given homework in physics and electricity to prepare them. But the kids don't seem to mind this—or that they're in school in June.


Robert Gardner is Associate Editor of Prism.
He can be reached at

Contact Prism