The masters graduate degree program in
engineering must change to respond to the needs of the modern
practicing engineer. What is needed is a balance between
theory and practice, between academic rigor and the best
practices of industry, presented in an integrated way that feeds
the needs of modern practicing engineers and the companies
they work for. The new Master of Engineering in
Mechatronics program attempts to remedy these deficiencies.
The key element is the one-credit module which:
balances theory and practice where concepts are applicationdriven,
not theory-driven; identifies and understands
industrial best practices by dissecting them into engineering
and mathematical fundamental models; achieves innovation by
assembling these fundamental models into new products and
processes; analyzes both existing and new products and
processes using computer simulations within a topic area;
demonstrates hardware to show system realization and validity
of modeling and analysis results; shows videos of industry
systems and interviews with industry experts; discusses best
practices to achieve sustainability of products; and maintains
flexibility through 15 one-hour blocks of instruction – a 5-week
mini-course or longer if preferred


I. Current Situation
It is widely recognized that the future of the U.S. and indeed
our everyday lives are increasingly dependent on scientific
and technical innovation. However, the United States is in
an innovation crisis fueled by a crisis in engineering
education. The innovation shortfall of the past decade is
real and there have been far too few commercial innovations
that can transform lives and solve urgent human problems.
Society’s problems are getting harder, broader, and deeper
and are multidisciplinary in nature. They require a
multidisciplinary systems approach to solve them and
present-day engineering education is not adequately
preparing young engineers for the challenge. Basic
engineering skills have become commodities worldwide.
To be competitive, U.S. engineers must provide high value
by being immediate, innovative, integrative, conceptual, and
multidisciplinary. In addition, innovation is local – you
don’t import it and you don’t export it! You create it! It is
a way of thinking, communicating, and doing
Innovation, the process of inventing something new,
desirable, useful, and sustainable, happens at the
intersection of technology, business, human factors, and
complexity (Figure 1). In addition to addressing the
nation’s needs for economic growth and defense, engineers,
scientists, and mathematicians must identify and solve
societal problems that benefit people, their health and
quality of life, and the environment. The STEM (science,
technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines must
embrace a renewed human-centered focus and along with
that a face that attracts a diversity of students interested in
serving people at home and worldwide. STEM students, as
well as students from the humanities, arts, social sciences,
and business, must all realize they are partners in solving
the innovation crisis. They each play a vital role and must
be able to identify the needs of people, to critically think
and solve problems, to generate human-centered ideas and
rapidly prototype concepts, to integrate human values and
business into concepts, to manage complexity, to work in
multidisciplinary teams, and to effectively communicate
results. The quality of STEM education in innovation, both
in K-12 and at universities, has a direct impact on our
ability as a nation to compete in the increasingly
competitive global arena.
Engineering, science, and mathematics educators face
daunting challenges to prepare this next wave of STEM
professionals. In general, the current preparation of
students is inadequate for the challenge. Students focus on
facts, tests, and grades and fail to understand concepts and
processes. They are unable to integrate knowledge,
processes, techniques, and tools, both hardware and
software, to solve a multidisciplinary problem. Students
need first, and foremost, to become critical-thinking
problem solvers. Indeed, one of the great failures in STEM
education has been the inability of graduating students to
integrate all they have learned in the solution of a real-world
problem, as the cartoon suggests
The situation for industrial professional engineering is very
similar, as they are products of our failing engineering
educational system. This situation has been exacerbated by
the current economic crisis and is captured by the cartoon
A College of Engineering must place renewed emphasis on
genuine university - industry interaction to create a culture
of innovation both throughout the College of Engineering
and within industry partner companies. This interaction
must be one of mutual collaboration, as only through a
balance of theory and practice, i.e., academic rigor and best
industrial practices, can the challenging multidisciplinary
problems be solved
Multidisciplinary engineering system design deals with the
integrated and optimal design of a physical system,
including sensors, actuators, and electronic components, and
its embedded digital control system
Discovery Learning is at the core of a College of
Engineering and is best defined by the student commitments
or outcomes it brings about than the teaching methods used:
critical thinking, independent inquiry, responsibility for
one’s own learning, and intellectual growth and
development. There are a range of strategies used to
promote learning, e.g., interactive lecture, discussion,
problem-based learning, case studies, but no exclusive use
of traditional lecturing! Instructors assist students in
mastering and learning through the process of active
investigation. It is student-centered with a focus on student
development
The integration is respect to both hardware components and
information processing. An optimal choice must be made
with respect to the realization of the design specifications in
the different domains. Performance, reliability, low cost,
robustness, efficiency, and sustainability are absolutely
essential. It is truly a mechatronic system, as the name
“mechatronics” does not justmean electro-mechanical
There are two keys to innovation through mechatronic
system design. The first is Human-Centered Design (HCD).
HCD requires interdisciplinary collaboration, an iterative
process with frequent prototyping, and engagement with
real people. As the cost of complexity has decreased
dramatically, the quantity of complexity and information
has increased just as dramatically, while human evolution,
our ability to deal with inherent complexity in powerful
systems, has remained constant (Figure 7). HCD helps
bridge the gap
The second key is system-level, model-based design. Once
a system is in development, correcting a problem costs 10
times as much as fixing the same problem in concept. If the
system has been released, it costs 100 times as much.
System-level, model-based design addresses this head on.
The best multidisciplinary systemdesign companies excel at
communicating design changes across disciplines,
partitioning multiple technologies present and allocating
design requirements to specific systems, subsystems, and
components, and validating system behavior with modeling
and simulation (virtual prototyping) of integrated
mechanical, electrical, and software components
Undergraduate engineering education today is ineffective in
preparing students for multidisciplinary system integration
and optimization – exactly what is needed by companies to
become innovative and gain a competitive advantage in this
global economy. While there is some movement in
engineering education to changethat, this change is not
easy, as it involves a cultural change from the silo-approach
to a holistic approach. In addition, problems today in
energy, environment, health care, and water resources, for
example, cannot be solved bytechnology alone. Only a
comprehensive problem-solving approach addressing the
issues of feasibility, viability, desirability, usability, and
sustainability will lead to a complete, effective solution. As
the Figure 8 shows, the modern professional engineer must
have depth in an engineering discipline with
multidisciplinary engineering breadth and a balance
between theory and practice.
A modern multidisciplinary system engineering design team
– a mechatronic system design team – most often takes the
form shown in Figure 9, with all participants knowledgeable
in controls, as it is such a pervasive, enabling technology.
Engineering programs need more than four years to be truly
effective. Practicing engineers usually pursue a graduate
degree to fill the gaps in their undergraduate education and
gain further knowledge and insight. Typically the graduate
degree is more of the same with less relevance, practicality,
integrative insight, and hands-on experience, and more in
depth theory that often is way beyond what most practicing
engineers will ever use. They are siloed degrees in siloed
institutions that often become very specialized. Most
industries need problem solvers across disciplines rather
than experts who know one thing really well. These
graduate programs involve a selection of 10-12 three-credit
courses from several departments, usually chosen by the
student for scheduling convenience. Integration of concepts
is left up to the student, as graduate courses are rarely taught
in an integrated way. Each is its own stand-alone entity.
Aggravating the problem is the fact that practicing
engineers cannot take a one-to-two-year leave of absence
from a company to get a graduate degree. While practicing
engineers can take courses bydistance education, a threecredit course offered in a semester format can often be
overwhelming from a time-commitment point of view and
further complicates the integration of concepts. Students
learn better in small chunks and not always at the same rate.
In addition, the current distance education model is flawed
as it tries to capture a lecture, with a camera in the back of a
room, and not a learning environment.
The masters degree must change to respond to the needs of
the modern practicing engineer. What is needed is a
balance between theory and practice, between academic
rigor and the best practices of industry, presented in an
integrated way that feeds the needs of modern practicing
engineers and the companies they work for. The new
Master of Engineering in Mechatronics program attempts to
remedy these deficiencies. Figure 10 represents a new
approach to graduate engineering education. The key
element is the one-credit module which:
•  Balances theory and practice where concepts are
application-driven, not theory-driven. Important
industry applications are studied with the goal to relate
physical operation to engineering fundamentals through
modeling and analysis.
•  Identifies and understands industrial best practices by
dissecting them into engineering and mathematical
fundamental models.
•  Achieves innovation by assembling these fundamental
models into new products and processes.
•  Analyzes both existing and new products and processes
using computer simulations within a topic area.
•  Demonstrates hardware to show system realization and
validity of modeling and analysis results.
•  Shows videos of industry systems and interviews with
industry experts.
•  Discusses best practices to achieve sustainability of
products.
•  Maintains flexibility through 15 one-hour blocks of
instruction – a 5-week mini-course or longer if
preferred.
All instruction is done via video with instruction interlaced
with industrial interviews, laboratory experiments, and
editorial sidebars – not just a camera at the back of a room.
The modules can be used by both non-degree and degreeseeking students, and also for industry short courses.
These modules all then feed into four three-credit, casestudy courses, taking the student from the user and problem,
to concept, to implementation, while emphasizing
integration, trade-offs, and optimization at every step. An
on-site culminating experience concludes the program
allowing the student to put it all together in a six-credit
integrated experience.
The Figure 11 shows the integration of these modules in a
multidisciplinary engineering system design. Different
modules can be added, while others deleted, depending on
the application area.
This program doesn’t yet exist, but there is widespread
industry and university support for its development. The
content for these modules and courses resides in textbooks,
industry application papers, and the minds of engineers and
professors, so the development challenge is great, but the
need is urgent! Modules and courses are presently being
developed. Examples of the type of presentation for the
Modeling Module can be found at
http://mechatronics.eng.mu.edu/~publicshare/Movies.