ENGR 2210: Principles of Engineering. Even though the name may sound like a theory-based engineering course, the course catalog description states “students will work in small multidisciplinary teams to design and to build a mechatronic system of their own choosing.” The first third of the semester consists of hands-on lab experience, and the remainder of the semester is for an intensive collaborative project. I took Principles of Engineering (POE) last fall semester and it’s one of Olin College’s required courses to graduate; Olin is entirely an engineering school.
We began the course with a handful of labs to become acquainted with Microchip’s PIC18F2455 microcontroller, which I’ll simply refer to as a PIC, short for programmable intelligent computer. Because C programming is not a prerequisite, students without C experience became proficient in C by writing programs that are compiled and flashed onto the PIC. This method of do-learn is what many Olin professors and students call “spiral learning” – the process of not necessarily understanding (and possibly struggling) learning a topic or skill, but then when returning and using it again, having a deeper understanding than if explicitly initially instructed.
Before midterms even started, teams of roughly 3 to 5 students were formed around project ideas and we began working on our final projects. The only requirements for the projects were that it must have a non-trivial electrical and mechanic system and that the college would cover up to $350 of supplies for each team. The professors reviewed the projects primarily for feasibility and difficulty – usually ensuring that the project is not too difficult.
I was on a team of three and we ventured to build a mechatronic player piano. It was an adventure that I’ll save for a future post.