Last week, the majority of the faculty members in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering voted favorably to revise the current curriculum in an effort to provide undergraduate students an opportunity for a significant breadth and/or depth experience.
The new curriculum was the result of a year-long effort undertaken by the School’s Undergraduate Committee. The committee, chaired by Dr. Marc Smith, was made up of 14 professors, 2 students, and 4 ex officio members, including Dr. Al Ferri, the School’s Associate Chair of Undergraduate Studies. The committee determined that in an effort to develop pathways for the next generation of engineers, a call for curricular change was indeed needed.
The field of mechanical engineering is transforming with the expansion of the discipline’s boundaries, the rapid technological innovation, and an increased need to attend to global issues. Mechanical engineers are increasingly called upon to work on multidisciplinary teams and to find innovative solutions to the problems facing society. Students still need a broad grounding in the fundamentals, but the curriculum must also provide a “professional practice stem,” which affords them experience in combining their engineering knowledge with open-ended problem solving, innovation, creativity, sustainability, global focus, and systems integration, as well as communication skills, teamwork, leadership, and management.
Dr. Ferri comments, “The committee’s intent was to modify the curriculum to provide enough flexibility and course offerings so that students can choose their own individual path to the BSME degree. I think the committee accomplished that with their recommendation and the ME faculty overwhelmingly agreed.”
The new curriculum retains most of the foundational courses that are needed for Georgia Tech graduates to step into their traditional roles in industry, research, product development, and systems design. From there, however, there are two paths that the student can choose – the breadth option or the specialization option. The breadth option provides students with 5 free electives (15 credit hours) that can be used to pursue wide-ranging interests. Significantly, the 5 free electives can be used by students to complete a certificate or minor in a vast array of subjects from math and applied sciences, to sociology, public policy, languages, economics, and psychology. The specialization or “concentration” option provides a major depth experience in some sub-discipline of ME. For example, students can choose to specialize in areas such as thermal and energy systems, biomechanics, materials, design and manufacturing, or nuclear and radiological engineering.
The flexibility of the new curriculum reflects many of the objectives voiced in the Institute’s and the College of Engineering’s strategic plans. Both options increase the total curriculum credits from 126 to 129, but also add a choice for breadth or depth in or out of ME. Dr. Bill Wepfer, Eugene C. Gwaltney Jr. School Chair and Professor, states "Our curriculum change, with its flexibility, aligns with the ASME roadmap which aims to enable students to develop understanding of mechanical engineering fundamentals but also offer greater strength in context and realization of design, a better systems perspective, and the possibility of focus in an area of interest whether it be in engineering or in a completely different field. To my knowledge we are the first of the large-enrollment mechanical engineering programs to embark down this path and I am confident this will better prepare our graduates for success in a multi-disciplinary world."
The next step in getting this curriculum approved is the Institute’s Undergraduate Studies' support.