Grant Helps Engineering Dept. Bring Technology to Design Curriculum


Last October the engineering accreditation board, ABET, visited California Polytechnic University in Pomona and announced that new criteria had been established for 1994. It was determined that each engineering student should have a meaningful design experience.

Howard Turner and other engineering department professors decided to develop a plan to revise Cal Poly's curriculum to best meet this new mandate, and their first decision was to more fully introduce CAD software into the engineering curriculum. So last winter, the department made a decision: MicroStation CAD and mapping software from Intergraph Corp. in Huntsville, Ala., would be adopted as the package of choice.

MicroStation Throughout

Previously, the use and instruction of MicroStation was reserved for 400-level classes. Now, plans are to incorporate the software into every design course by the 1995-96 school year.

Freshman students begin their course of study with a two-unit introductory class devoted entirely to MicroStation. This provides them with a working foundation on which to build.

Following that, approximately 12 design classes will utilize MicroStation and/or the MasterWorks suite of engineering-specific applications. Says Turner, "We build off the MicroStation [freshman] course, expose students to various software applications throughout their studies, then pull all that knowledge together in a final design series."

The latter refers to the Civil Engineering Design Series, a new addition to the department's curricula. It comprises three senior-level major design classes in which MicroStation is utilized to develop a final project; finished drawings are also required.

The Bookstore & Inservice

Intergraph's software has and will continue to become an integral part of Cal Poly's engineering curricula. Students and teachers alike realize that three hours in the computer lab isn't enough, especially since 650 students clamor to use the lab equipment. While one solution would be to extend the computer labs' hours of operation, that would create a resource problem.

So the school worked with Intergraph, forging an agreement in which it would offer MicroStation to students through the campus bookstore. Once students began purchasing the program for home use, they began to also drive the curriculum, says Turner. "Their input helped forge a new curriculum."

MicroStation was also available, at that point, for instructors to purchase. This gave several teachers a jump start on learning to use the software.

Indeed, inservice is an important part of meeting the ABET mandate. "Approximately 12 members need to be trained and we have a year and a half to get everyone on board," says Turner. "We believe we can train all faculty on MicroStation."

To facilitate the training, the engineering department is calling upon its business ties. Cal Poly Pomona is a member of the Industrial Action Committee, comprised of several partnerships with prominent engineering firms in the area. Plans are to invite representatives from a few of those companies, most of whom already use MicroStation, to help host a special inservice training course.

MicroStation From the Start

Turner had been sold on MicroStation since 1985. When he came to Cal Poly Pomona four years later to develop a survey and engineering program, he introduced the software to his fellow instructors.

His relationship didn't stop there. Turner applied for and won an NSF grant that provided $99,350 to enhance the use of GIS and photogrammetry in the engineering department's curriculum. The grant's matching criteria was fulfilled by Intergraph, who donated over $300,0000 in equipment, including an image station comprised of an Intergraph 6487 and a 27" monitor, three Intergraph 2020 workstations, MicroStation version 4.03 software and networking capabilities.

At the same time, Intergraph and MTA, the company in charge of installing California's MetroRail commuter train, donated 80 Intergraph 225 workstations to six Los Angeles engineering colleges. Of those, 25 made their way to Cal Poly's engineering department. All of this hardware and software, plus eight 486 computers also running MicroStation, are networked together and reside in three labs in the Classroom Lab Administration building.

To fulfill the grant, Turner and his colleges are currently running test courses to determine the best way to implement GIS and photogrammetry into the curriculum. They offer instructors a chance to see how different students comprehend concepts and use the equipment to generate drawings. The courses are offered as special-topic classes for upper-division students and, according to Turner, "We don't have a shortage of students requesting the classes."

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.