At the heart of the core curriculum is a series of eight design courses, one each semester, that is referred to as the Design Spine. The Design Spine courses are the major vehicle for developing a set of competencies to meet educational goals in areas such as creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork, economics of engineering, project management, communication skills, ethics, and environmental awareness. In most cases, they are also linked to the engineering science courses taken concurrently each semester. This is done so that experiments and design projects provide a tangible context for the engineering science lecture materials and thus are an aid to learning.
The first five core design courses are taken by all students and are taught by adjunct engineers who bring the benefit of their industry-based design experience into the classroom. The last three courses are taken within their discipline - a junior course followed by a 2-semester capstone senior project.
The Importance of Systems Thinking & Total Design
The design sequence also introduces concepts associated with systems thinking from the start of the design sequence. Systems thinking recognizes that engineers are called upon to practice in a global socio-economic environment increasingly dominated by engineering systems and the design of engineering systems.
Engineering curricula, with their focus on the disciplinary contributions to design, tend to encourage a mindset in which students seek technical solutions often rooted in a specific engineering discipline with little regard for the context in which their product, system, or service may be deployed, the societal or business need it may fulfill, or even its relations to all the other engineering, business or "environmental" domains that can contribute to success.
To address the issues of "partial design," the comprehensive design approach known as Total Design, is being implemented. Total Design is the systematic activity necessary from the identification of system stakeholders through to a successful product/process/service to meet those stakeholder requirements. In fact, Total Design encompasses approaches, methods and tools of system design and systems engineering. The major aim of systems engineering is to develop an operational model of the system for all phases of the life cycle; the model is then used as a basis for detail design.