Engineering students play golf, gain major experience

If someone were to ask you what you thought occurred in the School of Engineering, it is probably safe to say that Lego building and golfing would not come to mind. Yet that is precisely what freshmen engineering students are doing.

According to Jennifer Wang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and instructor of Fundamentals of Engineering Design, a course which debuted in Fall 2005, her goal is to provide first-year engineering majors with hands-on experience. Prior to this course, there were limited opportunities for freshmen to get actual experience in the engineering field. For the course, the students must construct a ‘golfingbot’ using the Lego Mindstorm Robotics Invention System.

The class is divided into five teams and the goal is simple: using the robotics kit, build a robot that can play golf on a custom-made course.

The course is made up of three holes above ground within a 12-by-6 foot rectangle. The golfingbot must be able to follow a path (laid out with black electrical tape), avoid two obstacles and return to its starting point after dropping one of the three balls it carries into each of the holes, Wang said.

According to Wang, once the teams have successfully designed and constructed their robots, they compete against each other at the end of the semester to see whose robot can complete the course the fastest. There is absolutely no human interaction with the robot after it is activated. The robot must move solely on powered mobility. Its touch and light sensors allow it to be self-controlled.

“The hardest part was to get it to follow the course,” Scott Turygan, freshman civil engineering major and one of the competition’s winners, said.

The directional movement was based on the light sensors’ sensitivity to the black tape versus the white of the floor. When the robot reaches the hole, the touch sensor triggers the arm that drops the ball into the hole.

Since this is the first formal engineering course open to freshmen, it allows the students to develop their interest in the field while studying all five disciplines of engineering: mechanical, electrical, computer, civil and biomedical. The course will be offered every Fall.

Wang said she hopes the freshmen engineering majors will be able to confirm their interest in the field, thus giving the major a higher retention rate.

Turygan said that this course definitely helped confirm his interest in the field. He said that the hands-on experience motivated him to continue his study as a civil engineering major, even when the “book work sucks.”

Wang said that the course exemplifies the state-of-the-art educational tools that are available to the students at the College. However, at first, she said she was doubtful it would succeed, considering the students would likely have zero hands-on engineering experience and might lack the knowledge required to complete the assignment on hand.

Despite her doubts, all the teams successfully constructed innovative robots last semester. She said she hopes that from this experience, the students further explore the engineering field and have a broader understanding of how the five separate disciplines are closely connected.

In the Fall, Turygan, Adam Oliszewski, and Scott Rein made up the team that designed the winning robot, which completed the course in the quickest time. To see footage of the competition and pictures of all the models and each team, visit