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Class in the Fast Lane: Engineering Students Build Go Karts and Highly Marketable Skills

February 03, 2010

Students with go karts  
Final Exam Day, Fall 2009.

For most college students, class assignments consist of reading chapters in a text book, doing math problems, performing a lab experiment or making a display. For Tim Pedersen’s Engineering Computer Application and Design class, the assignment is a little different, a little more complex and, for most students, a little more fun. This fall, they built fully functional go karts.
Pedersen, assistant professor in the physical sciences department at Meramec, tries to come up with a new design project every semester. He selected go karts because the project helped students get some hands-on experience with mechanical and electrical systems.

“I like to give students a realistic idea of what engineers do in the field,” Pedersen said. “The biggest benefit from this sort of assignment is that it teaches the ‘engineering design-build process,’ taking a project through all its steps from conception and budgeting through work scheduling and building to testing. The design-build process not only reinforces the mechanical and electrical system design, but also team work, scheduling and the most often neglected part of engineering—the purchase process.” he said.

Prior to building their karts, each team produces a Gantt chart that details the work, design schedule (in the form of tasks) and activity schedule specific to each project. Totally the responsibility of the students, the Gantt chart has to be updated and any delays in the schedule have to be explained. Purchase requisitions have to be produced, submitted and approved for the purchase of any necessary parts or equipment. The team leader is responsible for scheduling work days so that all group members work equally on the project.

And the final exam? Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines and let the races begin!

According to Pedersen, most students love working on these projects that give them a taste of engineering in the real world. And a few, he concedes, learn something even more valuable than engineering skills: they quickly learn they are not going to make a career out of engineering.

“This is what the first few years of college are all about—becoming inspired by your dreams and learning to make them a reality,” Pedersen said. “But it’s also about figuring out what you don’t want to do, as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”

Pedersen will be hosting Engineering, Mathematics and Sciences Night on April 1, at STLCC-Meramec. The evening program begins at 6 p.m. in Lecture Hall 103 and is targeted to high school juniors and seniors who are interested in pursuing a future in engineering or other math and science-related professions. The co-hosts for the evening will be faculty and staff from Missouri University of Science and Technology (MS&T), who will explain the benefits of beginning at STLCC and transferring to MS&T.