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Fall 2016


The broad-based support expressed in the recent 36-hour Vandal Giving day, in year-in/year-out annual gifts, and in continuing teaching/research collaborations with regional industry is a trigger for reflection on what makes our engineering program special. Something I often share with prospective freshmen is that we are the residential design, analysis and manufacturing experience of choice in the Pacific Northwest. This is a combination of built pedagogy, just-in-time learning opportunities and community engagement.

In engineering context, built pedagogy translates into flexible meeting/working spaces, shop equipment and access to engineering tools. Strongly-built pedagogy invites creativity, interaction, critical thinking, proof-of-concept prototyping, thoughtful experimentation and public display of design artifacts. Our remodeled Gauss Johnson laboratory is heavily-endowed with built pedagogy. The machine shop, design suite, metrology lab, computer labs, ME 330 lab, graduate student offices and Mindworks design review suite constitute an attractive complex that appeals to engineers of all ages. Many other programs across the country have such resources scattered about multiple buildings and hallways. Our contiguous, well-maintained, heavily utilized, 4000-ft2 resource in the Gauss Johnson lab is indeed very special and distinctive.

Just-in-time learning is essential to efficient project work. This is epitomized in numerous QR codes witnessed around the design suite and in tool drawers within the shop. Via one’s cellular phone, these are prompts for point-of-use learning. For those who haven’t experienced these, the QR codes lead to linked wiki pages that explain use of machining tools, best practices in manufacturing and responsible housekeeping. Student involvement in creating/updating this resource is a regular component of our popular lean manufacturing short course. Each year, our repertoire of just-in-time learning opportunities at grows larger and deeper. It is celebrated as a journey rather than an endpoint, just like one’s way of being as a professional engineer.

Community engagement speaks to two objectives in the 2016-2025 U of I strategic plan. These are under Goal 2 which is “ENGAGE: outreach that inspires innovation and culture:

...develop community, regional, national and international collaborations which promote innovation and use University of Idaho research and creative expertise (i.e. design and manufacturing excellence) to address emerging issues.

...engage individuals (alumni, friends, stakeholders and collaborators), business, industry, agencies and communities in meaningful and beneficial ways that support the University of Idaho mission.

Clearly this is a two-way street where added-value is created both outside and inside the university. This engagement can be informal (via an alumni event in your geographic area) or formal (like the surveys below that seek input for program planning). The first survey probes alumni feedback on “what mechanical engineers need to know about manufacturing.” The other survey solicits stakeholder input on updated departmental Program Education Objectives which describe what our graduates should be able to do after three to five years on the job.

Another form of community engagement is joining our two-semester capstone design experience. The outcome of this collaboration is authentic learning and potentially ground-breaking project work. This begins with external partners taking the risk of suggesting a problem that they can’t seem to get time to wrap their hands around, along with willingness to dedicate a fraction of their time each month to serving as a client for a senior design team. This also begins with young, classroom-smart engineering professionals who aren’t sure where they fit in the modern workplace, and involves a team of committed and well-trained graduate student mentors who have been through the journey before, but are cultivating their skills in leading their peers. This also involves faculty and staff from across the college who may have been out of industry for a long period of time and who are discovering their niche in the 150-person organization that is our inter-disciplinary capstone design program. Over the next eight months, community engagement happens and everyone pitches in to make a difference. The ending is our annual Design Expo celebration in which many of you have contributed as exhibit and technical session judges — a signature moment for Vandal Engineering. The entire endeavor serves as an engineering-specific definition of engaged learning.

Partnering with you in multiple ways is a special gift that we all need to take time to cherish and to pay forward to future Vandal Engineers. I’m in. I know many of you are too. Thank you so much for your generous and ongoing support of our program.

— Steve Beyerlein
Department Chair






Contact Us

Engineering Physics Building Rm. 324K

Mailing Address:

Mechanical Engineering
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 0902
Moscow, ID 83844-0902

Phone: 208-885-6579

Fax: 208-885-9031