Standards in the Classroom
Guidance and Opportunity
In a 1999 article for SN, I posed a question about whether standards and codes in engineering higher education were "confounding constraints or helpful hindrances?"1 Well, a decade or so of educational and work experiences at several different institutions have provided the following perspectives on that question.
As background, what exactly is engineering education? One definition might be "the pedagogical demonstration of the practical application of mathematics and science in the implementation of engineering principles to the solution of societal problems." The invocation of standards and codes in engineering education might almost seem stifling to the learning experience of modern engineering students. After all, why would an educator confound or hinder students by limiting their fresh and creative engineering solutions?
The answer lies within that definition of engineering education: "the practical application of mathematics and science." Standards and codes are consensus documents that enable engineers to implement engineering principles for the solution of societal problems consistently, safely, economically and efficiently. Thus, the constraints of standards and codes do not hinder students but instead help define practical boundaries on their designs.
Indeed, since 2000, as part of its new accreditation requirements for the 21st century, the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology has included a reference to standards and codes in Criterion 5 on curriculum of its criteria for accrediting engineering programs: "Students must be prepared for engineering practice through a curriculum culminating in a major design experience based on the knowledge and skills acquired in earlier course work and incorporating appropriate engineering standards and multiple realistic constraints."
In our experience here in the Lyles College of Engineering at California State University, Fresno, standards are by and large incorporated directly and seamlessly into the engineering curricula. In many of our laboratory and design courses, we use and reference standards and design codes from ASTM International, the American National Standards Institute, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and SAE International, among others.
For example, in our Engineering Materials Laboratory, students are required to use and then reference test methods such as ASTM E18, Test Methods for Rockwell Hardness of Metallic Materials, in their lab exercises and subsequent lab reports. In other courses such as Mechanics of Materials Laboratory, students must use ASTM E8/E8M, Test Methods for Tension Testing of Metallic Materials, to choose the proper test specimen geometry, grips and test modes for a given material and compare their tensile test results to literature values. Another example is the Design of Machine Elements class, where students use design standards such as ANSI/ASME Standard B106.1M-1985, Design of Transmission Shafting, to choose shaft diameters for various applications under static and cyclic loading.
Furthermore, in capstone design projects, students are encouraged to incorporate standards so as to bolster their design solutions. This is not only a healthy and required part of our ABET accreditation, but part of good professional practice wherein we constantly expect references to and the use of standards where necessary. For example, in a recent industry-sponsored capstone design project, a group of seniors came to us to ask if we knew of a standard to evaluate the degree of paint cure. We took the opportunity to show them how to use ASTM International's online search capability for appropriate standards. As a result, we identified two applicable standards, from which they chose ASTM D3363, Test Method for Film Hardness by Pencil Test. Referencing and using this simple but effective standardized test method saved students a significant amount of time and substantially enhanced the credibility and persuasiveness of their capstone project.
Finally, some students are interested in doing independent study projects that involve standards development. Currently, a senior in mechanical engineering at our university who is interested in learning more about advanced materials has been working with us and a local company on U.S. government-funded projects to help develop two new standards on flexural strength testing and hoop tensile strength testing, respectively, of ceramic matrix composite tubes for nuclear reactor applications. The efforts so far have involved literature review, solid modeling and numerical analysis. As the project develops, drafting, refining and balloting the new standards, as well as validation through interlaboratory testing are anticipated.
So, other than accreditation requirements, what is the value of incorporating standards and codes into engineering education? For one, it tells students not to reinvent the wheel; if they need to measure something, there is probably a proven (i.e., valid precision and bias statements) way to do it. It shows students the importance and efficacy of consensus processes (even at international levels). It illustrates to students that following directions, such as in the procedure section of standard test methods, will give them consistent, repeatable and correct results regardless of the tester and test equipment. It provides students with powerful examples of why they need to be aware and involved with professional organizations (beyond the usual "it looks good on your resume"). Finally, it prepares students to enter the engineering profession with an awareness of the existence and utility of standards and codes, and, more important, experience in using them to solve problems and create innovative solutions to benefit humanity.
1. Jenkins, M.G., "Standards and Code in Mechanical Engineering Education," ASTM Standardization News, Vol. 27, No. 9, September 1999, pp. 20-25.Michael G. Jenkins, Ph.D., P.E., is a tenured professor of mechanical engineering and former dean of engineering of the Lyles College of Engineering at California State University, Fresno. He is an ASTM fellow and has actively used, developed, taught and promoted standards and codes for 30 years with such organizations as ASTM International, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, SAE International, the International Organization for Standardization and others.
The M. Nguyen, Ph.D., is assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Lyles College of Engineering at California State University, Fresno. He is an advocate of standards and design codes in professional and academic settings.