Shilpa Giri

Nov. 26, 2019 marked the 20th Annual First-Year Engineering Design Day, popularly known as FEDD. While FEDD is an “end-of-semester opportunity for first-year engineering student teams to showcase their design projects,” according to NC State’s engineering website, I can’t help but believe, as a first-year engineering student myself, that FEDD has a number of flaws, dampening the experience for future engineers.

FEDD is a compulsory project that is a part of Introduction to Engineering (E101), a mandatory one-credit course for first-years in engineering. Students are put into random teams, and are allotted a project from a list of 20. They then have close to two months to design, build and ultimately present their project on the big day, which is FEDD.

The first flaw with FEDD is that most of the projects are specific to different engineering programs, and professors encourage teams to allot duties according to students’ intended major. However, first-years do not take any major-specific courses, defeating the purpose of that step. If this project could have been assigned in students’ second or third semester, they could have had more experience with the engineering design cycle and could have designed a project of their own.

Secondly, FEDD does not allow original ideas, to a large extent. Most of the projects are dictated, with a strict set of guidelines and objectives to follow. While students do have the freedom to come up with their own design within the guidelines provided, most of them end up copying previous years’ designs. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and that was clear from the fact that most teams had similar if not identical designs. This brings me back to my previous point that if students could have been allowed to showcase their ingenuity at a later stage of their college life, they could have come up with more innovative ideas, instead of simply duplicating other people’s work.

Thirdly, assigning students into teams entirely randomly is not conducive to learning. Andrew Berley, a first-year studying engineering whose team placed first under the category of Assistive Device, talked about the different challenges his team faced.

“Getting everyone to come together and just trying to work with each other’s schedules was probably the hardest thing,” Berley said. “We [his team] had a lot of tension just cause of conflicting personalities but we worked through it and stayed professional for the most part.”

I agree, most first-year students at the start of the year don’t have a lot of friends to form a team of their own and professors encourage working with strangers as it provides students experience regarding professional engineering. However, there is a method faculty could have used to group students who don’t know each other beforehand but do have something in common.

After assigning teams, the teams were told to submit a list of the top three projects they would like to work on and were then allotted one of those three. However, the process should have worked the other way around. Students should be allowed to submit their individual top three and then be grouped with other students who would like to work on the same project. That way team members are already on the same page about something even before they meet each other, and all members are interested in the project, resulting in an equal division of labor.

“I wish we were able to do our first choice,” Berley said. “I think the arcade machine would have excited me a lot more and I would definitely have jumped on actually building it a lot sooner than when I did the assistive device.”

Lastly, E101 happens to be a single credit course. To those of you who are unfamiliar with engineering, FEDD is not the only project in this course. Students must complete essays and give team presentations in addition to working on their project. If FEDD is such an important component of freshman engineering, then students should at least get more credit for it. Working in a team takes a lot of time and effort, so all that hard work should reflect significantly in our GPA.

As a STEM student and engineering enthusiast, I loved the idea of FEDD when I first heard about it. I loved the idea of building a bridge of my own and thought it would allow me to bond with fellow engineers. But, as I went through the entire process, I begin to learn more of the cracks in FEDD’s seemingly perfect surface. FEDD is a beautiful concept, but the NC State engineering department should definitely consider changing things up a bit. As of now, FEDD scares more students away from engineering than making them love it.