Instilling Design-Thinking In Engineering Students

SOE students on a field trip to an MRT construction site to gain real-world engineering knowledge on how megaprojects are designed, planned, and built according to the frameworks and models in engineering systems.  Ir. Dr. Matthew Teow Yok Wooi, Head of School of Engineering at KDU University College, conducting a computational workshop simulating physics, the fundamental of engineering studies, in line with promoting design thinking amongst the students.  Armed with in complex problem-solving and communication skills, students of the School of Engineering at KDU University College actively take part in complex engineering activities.
“You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created,” according to Albert Einstein, the most influential physicist of the 20th century. In order to mould an innovative mind-set to drive the modern economy, it is important that design-thinking is incorporated into the academic syllabus and pedagogy. 

The School of Engineering (SoE) at KDU University College (KDU) believes that the design-thinking process is key in enhancing its engineering students’ problem-solving abilities, and have introduced the Design-Centric Curriculum in 2012. 

“Being a modern engineer, you are essentially a problem-solver and must be able to communicate with people from different training background, who do not necessarily understand your technical jargon,” said Ir. Dr. Matthew Teow Yok Wooi, Head of SoE. 

Gone are the days of theoretical and experimental approach in engineering studies. With the complexity of the modern world, engineering training and activities shouldn’t be too simple and monotonic by only using a circuit board as training tool, or merely looking into technical aspects. 

“When designing a product, an engineer must be able to look from a wider angle, which includes the user, economy, manufacturing and many more aspects,” explained Dr. Matthew, who is also a Chartered Engineer registered with the UK Engineering Council, Professional Engineer registered with the Board of Engineers Malaysia, as well as the newly elected Chairman of the Malaysia Network of The Institution of Engineering and Technology, UK.

According to Dr. Matthew, the Design-Centric Curriculum inculcates Problem-Based Learning and Project-Based Learning, and has three important attributes in the curriculum - Complex Problem Solving, Complex Engineering Activities and Complex Communication Skills. As part of the curriculum, students are required to complete engineering projects that contain various natural factors which creates constraint and limitation challenges that is mirrored in the real-world.

Putting what they learnt into practice, a group of Electrical & Electronic Engineering students, Tharmaraj A/L Vilosamy, Tan Kin Sun and Vinodkumaran Munian under supervision of lecturer Dr. Hossein Zeynal, embarked on a capstone project on Micro-Grid Development for Kampung Sesapan Batu Minangkabau last year.

Kampung Sesapan Batu Minangkabau, a small village in Beranang, Selangor, consisting of 450 people with 90 houses, a school, clinic and mosque, was selected as the village faced frequent power disruption.

The project saw the students collecting field data from the villagers which include the norms of energy consumption, types of appliances used daily, source of income, frequency of power disruption and such, and ultimately, designing a green energy system, replacing power with renewable solar energy, which would effectively solve the village’s problem.

Through this hands-on project in real life situation, students not only improved their understanding of the utilisation of renewable energy (solar energy) as engineers, but had directly helped the villagers by implementing their technical knowledge and training to develop a simple, cost effective, sustainable green energy system, which is environmental-friendly. 

As solar energy is the first choice of renewable energy technology, and micro-grid is an ideal power supply for homes in provincial territories, this selected renewable energy can be coordinated with neighbourhood utilisation. 

Through the implementation of the green energy system designed by the SoE students, this remote village is now equipped to produce solar energy to generate electricity for the entire area.

“The Problem-Based Learning and Project-Based Learning methods are able to bring those three attributes of DCC to the surface. In a nutshell, the whole concept of design-led innovation is none other than the process of acquiring knowledge, training up skills, hands-on design and eventually developing an innovative solution, which was what our students demonstrated in the capstone project for Kampung Sesapan Batu Minangkabau,” Dr. Matthew concluded.

KDU University College will be having its Enrolment Day on 25 and 26 July, from 10am to 5pm, at its Utropolis Glenmarie and Damansara Jaya campus. To find out how you can hit the ground running with KDU University College, log on to or call 03-5565 0538 (KDU University College, Utropolis, Glenmarie) / 03-7953 6688 (KDU College, Damansara Jaya).

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