At my college reunion, I got to visit the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK). This facility provides a space for undergraduate students majoring in STEM fields to “design, prototype and deploy solutions to real-world engineering challenges.”
For example, the University of Malawi Polytechnic Design Studio requested a device to convert plastic water bottles into filaments. These filaments could then be braided into rope or used to make baskets. The device needed to be easily made, using local materials, in Malawi, and cost ~$10.
Another project sought to develop a portable, affordable, and easy to install baby car seat accessory to prevent child fatalities due to heat stroke. Through a system of redundant sensors, the alert notifies a caregiver via visual/auditory alarms and text messages if a loaded car seat is unattended.
One project that caught my interest was to design a feeder for giraffes. The issue was that giraffes become lazy, among other things not exercising their tongues enough. OEDK students designed a feeder that could be raised or lowered via pulleys. Later, I got to see it in action at the zoo. Apparently, most of the giraffes prefer being hand-fed lettuce. However, a shy older one was happiest eating hay from the feeder.
These projects are all good examples of community-based curricula. Problems (and resources) in the community are identified, which lead to a cycle of inquiry. The end result is returned to the community in the form of a solution for the original problem.