Yet, it’s the practical that is most important. That is, applying the theory they’ve learned. Students learn faster using educational plants which turn all that theory into physical systems. This entails the use of specialized software and hardware for data acquisition and communication with their plant. If the technologies are new, learning them requires even more valuable time. However, Dr. Wang believes that if students have not “actually built something, they don’t have any credibility. They have to build something in their undergraduate program to call themselves mechatronic engineers.”
Student competitions are best for solidly putting theory into practice. In a recent article about the 2009 American Society for Engineering Education Conference, Quanser noted how these inter-school challenges make young engineers more desirable for employers. “Terri Morse of Boeing, Andy Mastronardi of Freescale and Keith Blanchet of Quanser all championed the importance of extra-curricular student competitions. These demand integration between disciplines – not just engineering but marketing, product development, finance, and more. The competitions help establish contacts within industry, while teaching the real-world need for attention to deadlines and budgets. The student sees theory turned into practice outside of labs, outside of engineering even, in the real world.”
All this is a lot to accomplish in four months. Anything that saves students time, without compromising learning, is a boon.