New electrical and computer engineering courses emphasizes entrepreneurship and design

The University of Delaware’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering recently introduced two new courses to teach engineers how to turn their ideas into useful and marketable products.

ELEG398, Design in Entrepreneurship, was taught by associate professors Rick Martin and Steve Hegedus and professors Mark Mirotznik and Charlie Boncelet.

“Students today are more often going to startups than behemoth companies after graduation,” said Martin, so it’s more critical than ever to equip students with foundations in entrepreneurship.

Student teams were asked to identify an unmet need in the market for products to help senior citizens live independently. Students learned about customer discovery, intellectual property, business structures, funding sources and more. After market research, which for some included a visit to a local senior center, each team developed a product design to meet the identified need.

“It’s important for students to learn how to start with a market need and figure out how to meet it versus making a widget and figuring out how to use it,” said Qaizar Hassonjee, a UD MBA graduate and president at Hass Tech Associates, who evaluated the students’ designs.

Students used computer-aided design software and fabricated prototypes using 3D printers and laser cutters in the department’s iSuite, a state-of-the-art teaching laboratory. The technologies included a pill bottle that lit up and unlocked at dosing time, a sensor that could detect when someone fell out of bed, a sensor worn on a belt that could sense a fall and contact help via text message, and a dispenser for blood sugar test strips that logged inventory known as the Diabeasy.

Amjed Hallak, a rising senior, was part of the team that produced the blood sugar test strip dispenser.

“Throughout the course, we had the opportunity to dive into the concepts revolving around entrepreneurship and business, topics which aren’t strongly emphasized among a typical engineering curriculum,” said Hallak. “Covering subjects such as patents, business plans and models, and having sources of immediate feedback from experienced professors gave us a near-realistic experience of what it’d be like to realize the matter of entrepreneurship in engineering.”

The teams pitched their prototypes to their professors, Hassonjee and Sean Wang, a UD engineering graduate, founder of multiple firms including BW Tek, and electrical and computer engineering department’s Entrepreneur in Residence.

In another new course, ELEG298 or ECE Design Challenges, students learned component selection, circuit design and simulation, printed circuit board design and manufacturing, and soldering. The course was taught by a team of professors, including Martin, as well as teaching assistants and lab/component support.

Students made custom circuit boards, an important skill for much of today’s technology.

“A lot of the students had never soldered before,” said Martin. “For many of them, it was the first time they’d made a circuit.”