Reinforcing design, honoring dedication

Posted on 23. Jan, 2014 by in Academic Departments, Alumni, Features, Gift Report, Issues, Mechanical Engineering, People, Students

A Stirling engine built by a team of mechanical engineering undergraduates helped to inspire a mechanical engineering alumnus and his wife to make a $100,000 anonymous gift that will support hands-on design experience in the College of Engineering undergraduate curriculum. When the students presented their work to a group of ME alumni, the alum noted how well the students understood and communicated their project.

“A lot of these alumni are practicing engineers, and you could see how impressed they were,” says the alum. “You learn about these things theoretically, but you don’t know what you’re learning until you actually see it. For me, it was the first time I understood what a Stirling engine was.”

The gift creates the Engineering Design Innovation Fund, which must receive $100,000 in matching funds prior to its use within the college. In the long run, the gift will help the College of Engineering produce graduates who are even more well-rounded and have even more to contribute in research and industry.

The donors say they want to make sure undergrads in all engineering disciplines graduate from the college with a head start in design experience. “Once you graduate and get to work, it’s not as if there’s a formal way of teaching these things to you,” the alum says. “I saw what students were doing with the design curriculum that ME had set up with a prior gift, and the students were very fired up about it.”

Reinforcing design in the undergraduate curriculum will make Badger engineers a formidable force in the workplace—and there’s simply no substitute for that, says college Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Steven Cramer. He says the design process is distinct from the scientific method, and therefore an essential part of what separates engineering from other science disciplines.

“What engineers do on the job is design and problem-solving with real, tangible things,” Cramer says. “The more we can create that environment here, the better prepared our graduates are going to be.”

Though the gift will benefit students across the college, it also honors Roxann Engelstad, the Stephen P. Timoshenko Professor and Bernard A. and Frances M. Weidemann Professor of Mechanical Engineering, for her dedication in her years as mechanical engineering department chair. The donors credit Engelstad with shoring up the department’s resources in the midst of a financial crisis.

“Rather than cutting other faculty members’ support, she cut her own, then she spent time raising outside money,” the donors say. “She was working selflessly for the students and the taxpayer.”

The donors point out that Engelstad also helped secure gifts to establish an engineering design innovation fund for ME students. Now, they hope to see the fund’s benefit spread throughout the college. “When you give to UW-Madison,” they say, “it has great faculty and great students, and that has a multiplier effect for the gift.”

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