Clark Atlanta University - ENGR 110 Engineering Computer Graphics

In this project, an NCIIA planning grant supported the incorporation of E-Teams into the required introductory engineering design course at Clark Atlanta University. Professor Sriprakash Sarathy used a start-up venture model for the course, in which students formed E-Teams and competed against each other to solve a given problem. Four E-Teams formed in the pilot semester, all charged with developing a concept for a product, performing market research, and assessing cost and the price of their product. Though some E-Teams attempted to commercialize their products beyond the class timeframe, an improved support system needs to be in place for most students to pursue commercialization.

Engineering Graphics
Restructuring Engineering 110 (Engineering Graphics) to incorporate E-Teams, with a multidisciplinary approach to team-based design

Program goals and structure
With this grant NCIIA supported the restructuring of Engineering Graphics, a required course in the engineering curriculum at Clark Atlanta, to support the formation of E-Teams and entrepreneurial practice. The course instructor, Professor Sriprakash Sarathy, incorporated a start-up venture model for the course in which students, primarily freshmen and sophomores, work in E-Teams and compete against each other to solve a given problem.

Additional changes to the course included the following:

  • E-Teams now present mid-project reviews in which they share their findings and proposed solutions with other teams. This raises students’ awareness of what the competition is doing, and stimulates them to greater innovation.
  • Students use Quality Function Deployment to study and analyze trade-offs in making a design selection. This helps identify and quantify risk associated with new technologies and processes.
  • E-Teams have access to presentation and graphics production software, to develop professional presentation and marketing materials.

In the course, E-Teams receive a memo from the “CEO,” instructing them to solve a particular design problem. They have to develop a concept, justify the concept, and show how it will affect the company’s bottom line. The second time Sarathy offered the course, he invited the E-Teams to choose the type of company they wanted to work for. 50% chose to be startup companies, rather than established companies. Sarathy says, “I’m not sure exactly why they wanted to be startups. Maybe it’s because of the glamour of Yahoo! and other internet startups. After several semesters of finding that the majority of students thought they wanted to work for startups, Sarathy introduced a course unit to explain what startups really are and how they really operate. He says, “My work in the course is closely related to work I’m doing with faculty in an Atlanta entrepreneurship incubator. I’ve learned from my experiences there that it’s important to go beyond a good idea, to find out how it fits with what already exists, and how to approach the market.”

History and context
The Department of Engineering at Clark Atlanta University offers a four-year undergraduate degree in engineering. Students may specialize in Civil, Mechanical, Electrical or Chemical Engineering. In addition to their courses, students receive support from mentoring relationships with faculty, internships, and summer co-op programs.

ENGN 110 (Engineering Graphics), together with Introduction to Engineering, makes up the foundation of freshman engineering studies, introducing students to the analytical process, and the concept of design. The course is open to students of all majors, and from all the campuses in the Atlanta University Center consortium. It focuses on the basics of graphics communication in the design process, and equips students with the tools to visualize, design, develop, and model concepts.

Before the course was revised, students worked in groups to support the preliminary design process, but E-Teams for the purpose of developing products commercially were not used. In its pilot semester, the revised Engineering Graphics course produced four E-Teams. All were modeled as start-up ventures. Two were manufacturing firms, one was an assembly firm, and one was a design consulting firm. All four accomplished the following:

  • Developed and fleshed out a concept for a marketable product
  • Identified the market segment
  • Identified factors affecting the success of the company
  • Assessed costs and set prices on the products
  • Developed innovative marketing approaches in keeping with their companies’ philosophies

The course is available to students from all majors. According to Sarathy, it generally attracts a 50-50% mix of engineering and non-engineering students. The non-engineering students are mostly natural sciences and business majors, with a few social science majors adding to the mix. Professor Sarathy says that the first time he offered the enhanced course, he attempted to use a personality inventory test to balance the teams. Using the test proved too expensive and too time consuming. “Now,” he says, “The students make presentations to the rest of the class, ‘selling’ their skills and talents. I then select several students to be team leaders, and ask them to select their E-Teams from the rest of the class, keeping a balance of abilities on each team.” Generally, this approach works well, although the students, generally young, sometimes need guidance in team choosing. “It’s nice in theory,” says Sarathy, “but in reality, I do end up mediating a few intra-team problems.”

Innovative and entrepreneurial outcomes
Several of the E-Teams generated by the course have indicated a desire to continue their work as a team over the next one to two years. One team is investigating financing and investor relations issues, and seeking additional support for their learning through a local technology incubator.

Professor Sarathy says, “Students don’t believe me at first when I tell them that the course may be the most gratifying experience in their four years of college, but the often return and tell me that I was right. Because of the way engineering education is structured, they usually don’t get to apply the innovate perspectives they learn in this course in such a focused way later in their education. Creativity in design is very important, but somehow students lose sight of this as they progress.”

During the past few years, Sarathy has made efforts to set up structures for the students to continue pursuing creative design. One approach to this is a design competition in robotics open to students from the entire Atlanta University Center consortium. A freshman E-Team generated by Sarathy’s design course won the competition, after working independently on their project beyond the course. This E-Team beat out a sophisticated project using complex logic devised by a team of computer science students, because they interpreted the assignment and the rules in an innovative way, and designed a simpler and more effective device.

Another E-Team from Sarathy’s course designed an innovative solution to a problem at Morehouse College, another member of the Atlanta University Center consortium. Sarathy says, “Every day, two thousand students are required to attend chapel services. Their attendance is checked with their ID cards. Every day, a terrible traffic bottleneck is created at the chapel, and because of the cumbersome attendance-taking process, students may not leave, even to use the bathroom, once they have checked in.” Sarathy says that the E-Team designed a sophisticated card reader and seat sensor system which would enable all doors to be open, and students to quickly run ID cards through a reader. The system would also allow students to come and go as needed. He says, “These students adapted the existing technology in an innovative way to solve a real problem.” The students sent their design idea to Morehouse.

Challenges and lessons learned
Because students focus on learning new software such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop, they do not have adequate time to compile significant market survey data, as Professor Sarathy had originally hoped they would. A greater problem, however, is the lack of structure for follow-through on the students’ work within the course. At this time, there is no reliable resource to fund the prototyping process, and no follow-up course to enable students to move their ideas forward. Several E-Teams, of their own initiative, have chosen to pursue development of their designs after the end of the course, but they are the exception.

Future prospects
The enhanced course has sparked an upsurge in student interest in entrepreneurship. Professor Sarathy feels it is important to keep the interest alive during the students’ junior and senior years. At this point, no academic structure exists to support student innovative or entrepreneurship efforts beyond the course. It is up to individual students to take the initiative for their own entrepreneurial learning.

Adobe Photoshop
Adobe Illustrator

Supplementary materials
Course website:
ENGR 110 Course syllabus
Evaluation form for individual team presentations