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Patsy Brackin Helping Give Students Engineering Design Skills to Meet Future Challenges

May 13, 2016

A recent “Pulse of the Engineer” study of engineers and technical professionals, conducted by IHS Engineering360, revealed that design skills are having an increasing role in today’s fast-paced, innovative industrial work environment, and will increase in importance even more in the future. 

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Passionate About Design: Veteran Rose-Hulman engineering educator Patsy Brackin is the incoming director of the institute’s new engineering design initiative. The academic program strives to expand design experiences throughout the engineering curriculum.

Meeting these demands, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology is striving to further emphasize engineering design elements through the efforts of Patsy Brackin, incoming director of the institute’s new engineering design academic program, and other faculty members.

A five-week pilot program beginning this summer for a select group of incoming freshmen will emphasize teaching creative design in a studio classroom setting, along with introducing students to elements of design and graphical communications, and expanding a student’s writing and rhetoric comprehension skills.

In the future, the program hopes to give students more design opportunities incorporated throughout their four-year college experience.

“Design is no longer the capstone of an engineering education. Fortunately, it is becoming an integral part of the entire learning process and will become even more important in the future,” says Brackin, who has spent the past 19 years as a mechanical engineering professor on the Rose-Hulman faculty. “Students should be learning the elements of engineering as they begin learning to design simple things. Then, as the engineering principles get more complex, so should the designs become more challenging. It’s going to be exciting to see the development of our students’ design skills throughout the new program.”

Brackin’s passion for teaching design came out of a necessity in her own career. After earning a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from University of Tennessee, she became frustrated when given the task of designing a project for the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company.

“Even with a master’s degree, I had no idea where to start the project because I hadn’t really put my design skills into practice throughout college. That’s how engineering was taught in the 1970s. Fortunately, things have changed for the better” she says. “Today’s engineering students are much better prepared for real-world experiences than my generation. However, the design challenges are getting even more complex. We need to give engineering students the skills to meet those future challenges.”

One of Brackin’s most popular classes introduces students to elements of creative design. She also mentors senior-year mechanical engineering capstone design projects, and has taught special topics courses that examine design for STEM education, sustainable creative design, humanitarian engineering, and project management for design.

Brackin, who earned a doctorate in design methodology from Georgia Institute of Technology in the 1990s, has played an instrumental role in the development of Rose-Hulman’s Home for Environmentally Responsible Engineering (HERE) program, a living-learning experience for students who are interested in sustainability or humanitarian engineering. She spent 11 years as director of the Operation Catapult program (being involved with the program since 1996), helping introduce high school students to the wonders of science and engineering.

“I have always found teaching to be such an awesome responsibility. And, I have loved being around students,” says Brackin, whose daughter, Elizabeth, is a 2006 Rose-Hulman chemical engineering alumna. “Good educators are always learning and expanding their horizons. That’s what we’re doing with the new engineering design program. There has to be a better way to teach design and we’re going to find it.”