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UDesign Uses Competition to Inspire Student CAD Design

Last semester, mechanical engineering major Elisabeth Foster had a brainstorm about how to upgrade students from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department and elsewhere in their CAD modeling and design skills. Why not take advantage of their competitive spirit? Foster’s brainchild was UDesign, a UMass registered student organization that uses design contests to drive its students. This semester, in fact, UDesign is also using a design contest to drive golf balls! “Our 40 members are divided up into groups of either four or five, and it’s a competition now,” said Foster, who is president of UDesign. “Who can propel a golf ball the farthest, using only the potential energy of a five-kilogram counterweight?” Link to UDesign Facebook page: facebook.72/

Foster added that “It’s however they want to do it, as long as it’s within a certain size constraint, and within a certain budget for materials, whoever launches the farthest will win.”

The result is a variety of approaches, from catapults, to trebuchets, to contraptions that actually attempt to reproduce the mechanics of a human golf swing. Move over, Tiger Woods. All the student teams designed their inventions in 3D using CAD programs and then built them primarily out of wood. The long-driving, catapulting, sling-shotting competition will take place just before final exams begin in April.

There will be prizes, which will be determined before the contest. But the most cherished prize is…What else? Bragging rights.

As the UDesign’s charter reads, “Our main focus will be to expose students to a three-dimensional CAD modeling program, and a challenge for those who have already learned one. Students will be provided with a tutorial as well as chances to tackle several design challenges throughout the semester. We want to encourage students to implement previously learned knowledge in mechanical engineering to practical problem-solving. We also want to encourage students from other majors to learn about design and practical problem-solving from an engineering perspective in a fun and competitive environment.”

To meet the inclusive nature of its charter, UDesign invites membership from across the UMass Amherst campus and the rest of the Five Colleges.

UDesign itself was designed, without CAD software no less, to supplement the MIE curriculum. “We mechanical engineering majors learn CAD programs freshman year,” Foster said. “We don’t use them again until junior year. It’s one of the most fun things we do as engineers, to actually model things in 3D, and after doing that, our classes just make more sense. But we forget how to use the programs during that span when we don’t use them.”

UDesign allows its members to work with a CAD program in the meantime. As Foster noted, they “become more familiar with it. Play around with what it is, how it works, what the limitations are, what we can do with it, and just have fun. We don’t really get the opportunity until senior year to actually design and build stuff.”

But UDesign teaches a lot more than mechanical engineering to its six officers. “My motivation for becoming an officer was to get organizational skills, leadership skills, coordinating skills, fund-raising, I get to experience it all,” said Kristi Shrestha, the secretary of UDesign. “I was in a lot of clubs in high school, but we always had teachers helping us. Here we don’t have that, so it’s a much more independent process. I’m learning a lot more because of that.”

Considering all the advantages of UDesign, a professional engineer couldn’t have drawn it up any better! (April 2013)