SEAS design center to add practical focus

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Photo by Joy Shan.

As the School of Engineering and Applied Science works to build a more interdisciplinary program, it has asked its students to dream up and manufacture devices with practical uses.

Set to open in September 2012, the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Center for Engineering Innovation & Design will house expanded course offerings in engineering design. For engineers, these classes will provide opportunities to apply the knowledge from their more theoretical coursework, and engineering school officials say they hope the new center’s practical focus will also appeal to students outside the major.

“The Center for Engineering Innovation & Design is a significant step forward in our ability to expand the intellectual and physical resources for Yale engineers to collaborate, create and contribute to solving some of society’s most challenging problems,” Engineering School Dean T. Kyle Vanderlick said in an email to the News.

Students taking the Center’s courses may design water distribution systems or cardboard furniture, said Vincent Wilczynski, deputy dean at the engineering school, referencing the recent opening of Chairigami — a cardboard furniture store on York St. founded by mechanical engineering major Zach Rotholz ’11.

Since Vanderlick took the reins of the School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2008, she has concentrated on combining a rigorous engineering curriculum with the strength of Yale’s liberal arts programs. The Center will build on the existing design coursework offered by engineering professor John Morrell ’86, a former lead systems engineer at Segway. In courses like “Appropriate Technology and the Developing World,” Morrell tasks his students — engineers as well as economics and political science majors — with creating devices to solve problems, like the delivery of electricity, that affect developing countries, Wilczynski said.

Although hands-on design has long been a part of engineering curricula, dedicated “centers” for design have become more common at engineering schools in the last decade, Wilczynski said. To generate ideas for the Center, Morrell traveled around the country to study similar programs at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Morrell said he hopes to adapt their best practices to the interdisciplinary needs of Yale’s program.

The Center for Engineering Innovation & Design will occupy the space of the current Engineering & Applied Science Library in the Becton Center. Renovation, slated to begin this fall, will create a collaborative “design space” with two levels: an upper level for teaching and team project planning and a lower level for workshop space and machine tools, Wilczynski said. By combining these phases of engineering design in one space, he added that the Center will promote the exchange of ideas among students working on different projects. With large windows facing out the front of Becton Center, the Center will be conspicuous to those walking along Prospect Street — hopefully drawing students into the facility, Wilczynski said.

“When you look in from the street, you get this really exciting view of students working on design project,” Wilczynski said. “It’s meant to be a very visible, very open area.”

Exact plans for the a replacement engineering library remain unclear, University Librarian Susan Gibbons said in an email, but it will move into a temporary facility by the end of the year. Next September, the Engineering Library will move into the former Yale University Health Services building at 17 Hillhouse Avenue, which will also house classrooms, offices and labs for the engineering department, Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said in an email.

Planning for the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design has lasted since the engineering school developed its strategic vision for the future two years ago.

Zoe Gorman and Alison Griswold contributed reporting.

Comments

  • Madas

    “Although hands-on design has long been a part of engineering curricula”… that’s bull you know what. But still, this is a great leap forward for Yale Engineering. It’s time to put all that talent to work actually *doing* and not just sitting around working problem sets. I expect to see great things from the design center.