The Materials Engineering department at Cal Poly emphasizes hands-on design, teamwork and professional communication from day one. During the first-year engineering design sequence, MATE students are asked to complete several design related tasks. The first is compiling a needs assessment, where students must identify a user's needs for a product, even when the user may not fully be aware of their needs or how to communicate them. While it sounds simple, it's one of the hardest and most important aspects of engineering design.
Next, students are challenged to design a solar water heater, despite having no working knowledge of what a solar water heater is, much less how to design one. In this project, the goal is for students to develop self-directed learning and team management skills. In addition, it provides an opportunity to complete one full cycle of the design process in a safe environment.
Finally, after successfully completing the solar water heater project, MATE freshmen are introduced to a service client – typically a non-profit organization in the local area such as homeless shelters, shelters for abused women, and so on. The task is to identify the needs of the client, propose a design that will better help them serve their own clients, and finally build and deliver this product. All in a mere 15 weeks! This is an intense engineering experience that very few engineering students ever see, much less during their first year. But it is one of the most rewarding experiences of MatE students' college career!
Here's a video of a past project highlighting the Growing Grounds Farm: http://vimeo.com/20661568