Designing across cultures: MIE’s international capstone course

pkugatestatue-sized-landscapeDecember 17, 2015 — More than a dozen U of T Engineering students and professors spent four days last month in China collaborating with colleagues from two universities on projects ranging from satellite design to assistive devices.

The trip was part of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering’s fourth-year international capstone course, which allows students to work collaboratively across continents and cultures on industry-sponsored engineering projects.

“We are training and educating students to be able to effectively communicate and work on a global scale,” said Professor Kamran Behdinan (MIE), who holds the NSERC Chair in Multidisciplinary Engineering Design and has been one of the key people behind the international capstone program. “It brings another dimension to their education, and to collaborative engineering design.”

“Diversity is very important in engineering,” he added. “Students learn from each other, bringing new perspectives from their respective environments that have a positive impact on design and innovation.”

The course, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary, includes partnerships with Peking University (PKU) in Beijing, the National University of Singapore, the University of California, Irvine and, new this year, Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Many of the projects are sponsored by industrial partners in Canada or the partner country.

Fausto Fanin (Year 4 MechE) is part of a group that is working on ways to stabilize the motion of a CubeSat, a versatile type of satellite that is no bigger than a toaster. “The PKU students have a great variety of different specializations: materials science and engineering, structural analysis, energy and resource engineering,” he said. “It brings a wide range of abilities to the team.”

The students meet in person only twice. In November, the U of T teams travel abroad to meet their collaborators face-to-face, and in April students from the partner institutions come to Toronto to present their final designs. However, the students are in constant contact via email and other online tools.

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