Using Benchmarking Methods to Inform Curriculum Changes in Mechanical Engineering Programs

John Whitefoot, Mark Bedillion
2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access Proceedings   unpublished
Engineering curriculum development often occurs in a single course or a series of courses, for instance where new material or tools are implemented (e.g., the inclusion of CAD/CAE tools throughout design courses). However, the entire curriculum for a degree should be periodically reviewed to investigate holistic characteristics and inform broader curriculum changes. This paper seeks to use benchmarking of other institutions as an initial step to inform whole curriculum development for a
more » ... pment for a Mechanical Engineering degree. This benchmarking will be used as an initial tool to investigate changes in the Mechanical Engineering curricula at The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Ten institutions, including Pitt and CMU, were selected for this study, with a goal of including both public and private institutions as well as a range of department sizes. The most recent Mechanical Engineering degree requirements were compared course-by-course to quantify broad trends in numbers of credits required in various areas and also find specific differences in particular requirements. The required courses were separated into three broad areas: Math & Science, Engineering, and Other; and the number of credits in each area were tallied and compared. Engineering was further subdivided into Mechanical and non-Mechanical courses for a more detailed comparison. Finally, Engineering courses were organized into subject areas (e.g., Mechanics / Dynamics, Thermo-Fluids, Dynamic Systems & Controls, etc.) and the requirements in each area were compared to understand differences in emphases between institutions. The broad benchmarking results show that all institutions have similar numbers of Math & Science credit requirements (30 -36) as well as a similar number of total required credits (128 -129). The number of Engineering credits ranges from 51 to 79, with an average of 65.4 credits. The number of specifically Mechanical Engineering credits required ranges from 45 -67, with an average of 51.4. The remainder of the credits in Other ranged from 19 -45, with an average of 29.6. Outcomes from this study show that Pitt's program requires approximately 10 more Engineering credits than the average with a corresponding low number of General Education credits, and is thus a comparatively inflexible program. Additionally, Pitt requires more specific mechanical engineering courses, such as a second Thermodynamics and a second Fluid Mechanics course. CMU's curriculum falls within the middle of the range for comparable institutions in requirements and flexibility. These findings will be used by the faculty of these departments as an initial step in deciding future curriculum changes. For example, Pitt may decide to make some required courses technical electives, in line with ASME Vision 2030's suggestion for increased curricular flexibility. Likewise, CMU may decide to increase the flexibility of its curriculum even further noting that other curricula (e.g., the MIT 2A curriculum) have substantially greater flexibility. This method is transparent and adaptable by other universities as a first-step in analyzing their own curricula. Challenges and limitations of this approach include the somewhat arbitrary separation of engineering courses into Mechanical or non-Mechanical and the difficulty of categorizing courses based on course descriptions alone. Furthermore, the selection of only a small number of institutions for benchmarking may not be representative of broader trends, and it is impossible to discern trends over time by only looking at current degree requirements.
doi:10.18260/1-2--35452 fatcat:3pns2hsbfvga5byte7vqa2vuzu