Competitions provide unique learning experiences

A second place finish at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 was the climax of more than two years of work for the Purdue University team. Yet the educational benefits for the team members and advisors will continue for years to come. The lessons they learned can help similar large-scale student projects such as Purdue’s EcoCAR 2 team. Both teams have strong ties to the College of Technology.

Solar Decathlon

The most tangible educational result of the Solar Decathlon is the home itself. It has been placed in a low-income neighborhood in Lafayette where it will be sold and lived in by a local family. While it is occupied, the home will operate as a research residence for a limited time. Students will be able to collect data about the long-term energy performance of the home and its electricity-saving features.

The competition also inspired the Department of Building Construction Management to make plans to duplicate the experience locally for continual student benefits. The department has also recommended that the University include outdoor project space with access to indoor build space for a planned student projects building.

“Although the learning process was not my first reason for becoming involved in the project, I think it is the greatest success of the process,” said Mark Shaurette, assistant professor of building construction management and the team’s construction advisor. “All of the experiences and requirements contributed to learning that is difficult to duplicate in the classroom or lab.”

William Hutzel, primary team advisor, and his colleagues submitted a paper to the American Society for Engineering Education that addresses the educational benefits of multidisciplinary design competitions.
“It is hard to imagine a better way to expose students to the broad range of issues they’ll face during their careers,” Hutzel said. “The design process not only included standards, but also brought economic, environmental, manufacturing, ethics, safety, health, social, teamwork and marketing issues along with it.”

EcoCAR 2


Real-world demands are equally evident in the EcoCAR 2 competition. Fifteen teams are charged with improving the energy efficiency of a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum consumption. They must also maintain performance, safety and consumer acceptability.

Vahid Motevalli, professor of mechanical engineering technology and primary advisor to the Purdue EcoMakers team, said the teams follow the Vehicle Development Process that General Motors uses in its vehicle development. The mix of experience and creativity has already made the students attractive to employers.

“Many of our students, having been involved in the EcoCAR 2 project only for a few months, are receiving multiple job interviews, internship offers and more,” he said. “We have the capacity to lead in the hybrid-electric automotive area, which is a growing and developing industry. We need to provide this opportunity for our students.”

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