Creative Problem Solving on Day 1 in College of Engineering

My first class of Sophomore year was a Mechanical Engineering Analysis and Design three-hour lab that started at 8:30am. How lovely.

An introduction was made, a syllabus was handed out, and lab-safety ensued. Safety procedures generally revolved around using goggles to circumvent not knowing how to work a machine and how to keep your fingers from getting stuck in anything that spins or cuts – TA’s don’t like cleaning up blood. Then we drew slips of paper from a hat.

My class of 30 and I realized we didn’t get the pleasure of picking our own groups; rather, we had to put ourselves together based off of some commonality in the words we drew. Categories ranged in scientific depth from different ways of writing 1,000,000 (106, mega, million) to names of buildings on campus to the individual words combining to “Sponge Bob Square Pants”.

After having solved this first riddle, we were handed a sheet outlining the basic parameters of the project. We had to hit a target 38 feet away from the CEER balcony with a foam ball by building some contraption. We were allowed PVC pipes, rubber bands, and a total of 4 hours.

The final launch led to varying degrees of success from each group, ranging from utter failure to a perfect bullseye. We also handed in a short lab report complete with a Matlab code outputting flight path by graphing basic kinematic equations we had to recall from Physics I.

My first ME-2505 class with Professor O’Brien accurately summarizes the entire engineering department. Creative problem solving isn’t encouraged as engineers at Villanova, it’s actually mandatory. From finding our group members to brushing up on Matlab coding skills from last year, this class session was one massive mental push-up.

The department’s habit of giving students the tools necessary to complete a project, yet not an abundance of guidance to facilitate it, is equal parts frustrating and rewarding. But it’s this creative exercising of our brains that leads us to flex mental muscles we didn’t even know we had, all leading to us becoming better engineers.

P.S. My group won.