Research & Innovation

Dr. Steven Hoffenson Brings Research on Design Directly to the Classroom

SSE assistant professor’s research seeks to understand the ways undergraduate engineering students think about the user-design experience.

When Steven Hoffenson was awarded a two-year grant of $152,762 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to research “Market-Driven Design Concept Formation in Undergraduate Engineers,” the classroom became the perfect laboratory.

In spring 2020, Dr. Hoffenson began studying two cohorts of students in his EM 322 Engineering Design VI course for juniors at Stevens. His research goal is to explore how students understand design as a process, before and after exposing them to market-driven design approaches and tools. After analyzing the first round of findings, he will involve spring 2021 engineering design students as well.

“We have found that by the time students are graduating, their work is looking at the technical part of design, but ideally we want them to think about design in a more holistic way that can be applied in a company or in an entrepreneurial venture,” said Dr. Hoffenson, whose co-PI is Dr. Nicole Pitterson, assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. 

In proposing the research, Dr. Hoffenson noted that while undergraduate engineering programs emphasize technical design and analysis, they generally do not adequately teach or discuss marketability, and evidence suggests that engineering students are graduating without a sufficient grasp of the bigger picture of design. 

“Thanks to this important grant from the NSF, it is possible that the findings from Dr. Hoffenson’s project will influence the ways in which design is taught to engineering students in the future,” said Yehia Massoud, dean of the School of Systems and Enterprises.  

Dr. Massoud’s strategic plan for SSE, in fact, states that curricula and pedagogy will be advanced to contribute to the future success of students after graduation. 

The research project involves an advisory board of academicians across the country who are eager for the findings, as they could possibly influence the way that engineering programs are accredited and designed in general.