i2e – A Venerable School Motto is Realized by Joining Two First-year Engineering Courses

Combining the Innovation and Technology Forum with Introduction to Engineering and Design Results in an Explosion of Student Creativity

The first cohort of students successfully completing the pilot program for the i2e section of EG 1001 and EG 1003

The first cohort of students successfully completing the pilot program for the i2e section of EG 1001 and EG 1003

Imagine high school is nearing its end, and you’ve been accepted to NYU Tandon. It’s an exciting prospect. You’ll probably be even more excited once you’ve had a chance to browse the course listings and discover that one of your courses, EG 1001 Innovation and Technology Forum, is focused on the concepts of invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship and includes guest lectures by a variety of highly regarded figures in STEM and entrepreneurship. If you like to get your hands dirty, you are also eager to dive into a course aimed at providing you with tools to make new technology, like EG 1003 Introduction to Engineering and Design.

Now imagine that you receive a letter inviting you to apply for a spot in a new program that combines the best of both, in order to immerse you in hands-on engineering from Day 1.

Starting Off Right

Tandon’s new i2e program was launched this year to combine the first-year Introduction to Engineering and Design with the required Innovation and Technology Forum. The result is a new first-year experience that introduces Tandon’s youngest students to human-centered design thinking, the maker movement, lean start-up methodology, and the importance of creating technology that will solve practical, real-world problems; encourages them to move from ideation to actual prototyping as they learn engineering principles; and gives them access to Tandon’s cutting-edge MakerSpace, with its wide array of 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, soldering stations, and other equipment. The goal of the i2e program was to create a fruitful environment where students could develop innovative products.

"This new freshman initiative is an example of how NYU Tandon is integrating student inventiveness and creativity as well as design and entrepreneurial thinking into our engineering curriculum," said Kurt Becker, Tandon’s Vice Dean for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “It exposes incoming students to these concepts from the moment they arrive on our campus and lays the foundation for subsequent project- and challenge-driven elements in our curriculum, such as the Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) sequence, among others.”

The program was initiated by the late Dean Iraj Kalkhoran by coordinating professors in the first-year engineering courses. The team that developed this environment for first-year students includes, David Lefer (who teaches the Innovation and Technology Forum), Gunter Georgi, Jack Bringardner, Peter Li, and Jim Cordista (the EG 1003 professors), Victoria Bill (the NYU Tandon MakerSpace Manager), and Melinda Parham (Assistant Dean for First-year Students & Academic Initiatives).

This new freshman initiative is an example of how NYU Tandon is integrating student inventiveness and creativity as well as design and entrepreneurial thinking into our engineering curriculum.
—  Kurt Becker, Tandon’s Vice Dean for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

“We worked with admissions to choose bright, imaginative self-starters who could thrive in what we knew would be a very challenging, work-intensive situation,” Professor Bringardner explained. “We sought out students motivated to conquer the engineering design process and master project management skills like budgeting, scheduling, and teamwork."

This project was also funded by the NYU Tandon School of Engineering Grant for Instructional Improvements, and it is expected that future iterations of this program will continue to provide this opportunity to first-year students.

“The students also had to be resilient and resourceful because of the inevitable setbacks that occur when you’re engaged in engineering a product or starting a business,” says Professor Lefer “I always relate a quote to my students from the boxer Mike Tyson, who once said, ‘Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth.’ If they’re going to be innovators and inventors, they have to be ready for that metaphoric punch in the mouth.”

Real Work, Real Prototypes

The i2e program challenged the students, who were broken up into teams, to brainstorm ideas for a new technology to solve a real-world problem; the teams then chose, with the guidance of the professors, the most promising on which to focus over the course of the semester. “It’s not enough that they are problem-solvers,” Lefer asserts. “They must first be problem-finders.” Students were also provided with mentors and technical instruction to help them with programming, electronics (like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and sensors), and 3D printing.

Group photo with multicorder
Theodore Kim, Megan Brown, and Zainab Babikir show off their Fall 2016 winning project at the Tandon Research Expo 2017

"We introduced students to the forefront of engineering and technology: the Internet of Things, the Maker Movement, NYU Tandon research focuses (bio, info, urban), and the Engineering Grand Challenges put forth by the National Academy of Engineers,” said Professor Bringardner. “It's exciting to see first-year students solving technical problems in service to society. Both winning teams set out in their project proposal to address a Grand Challenge, advancing personalized learning, a societal perspective of professional engineering that gives them an advantage."

The top project would garner the Iraj Kalkhoran i2e Award, named in honor of the late Associate Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Academics and Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, a beloved Tandon figure who had given the program the initial push shortly before he passed away. At stake was also $1,000 in prize money, a portion of which was donated by Cresilon, a successful tech company run by Joe LandolinaIsaac Miller, and Omar Ahmad, all former NYU students who had previously worked as teaching assistants for Lefer’s course.

The first semester, the winning team built a device they dubbed the Multicorder, capable of numerous different scientific measurements. Aimed at providing students and teachers with a fun and low-cost way of exploring science, it served, in effect, as an entire lab the size of an iPhone. The Multicorder went on to win its developers (Theodore KimZainab BabikirMegan Brown, and Shiva Duraisamy – a graduate student who joined their team after the class) $15,000 for coming in second place in Tandon’s 2017 InnoVention competition, a NYU Tandon competition run by the NYU Entrepreneurship & Innovation Association and the NYU Tandon Future Labs.

This semester the winners, first-year students Tej Khanna and Victor Villanueva, invented a low-cost keyboard for use in teaching very young children to type. “They put in an enormous amount of work in terms of both technology and customer development,” Professor Georgi says. “It is incredible to see students take a theoretical idea and turn it into a practical solution. And if they further develop their prototype and enter the next InnoVention Competition, we all hope they do as well as the Multicorder did this year.” In a nod to the award’s corporate sponsor, Lefer added, “Maybe they’ll even end up being the next Cresilon.”