April 2014

Featured Article

MTSI: Product Design Based Summer Program to Introduce Careers in ECE

By Sid Deliwala, Electrical and Systems Engineering Labs, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104


There is resurgence of MAKE movement - representing MAKER CULTURE that stresses new and unique use of open-source materials, emerging technologies and encourages prototyping and invention. The movement has the potential of re-igniting the interest in STEM fields due to its very nature of  active and project-based learning.

A unique 3 week summer residential program, Management and Technology Summer Institute (MTSI), was established to introduce  engineering  and management concepts for high school seniors using combination of classes delivered by faculty from  the Wharton School and the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS),  seminars, company visits, and hands on experiences in labs that encourages design and innovation. The goal of the program is to  provide an introduction to technological concepts and engineering disciplines as well as  business and management principles and technological innovation strategies. During the course of three weeks students examine different stages in product design from idea generation and  market research to prototype design and marketing plans. The culmination of the program is a product fair in which students pitch their concepts and demonstrate working prototypes that incorporate microcontroller (arduino), sensors, circuitry and software. This convergence highlights importance of technology based innovation.

The labs are held in the Detkin Lab of the Electrical and Systems Engineering department.

The total number of students in this program varies between 50 to 55 students. The residential teaching assistants (RTAs) play a key role in motivating and mentoring the student throughout their stay. Additional lab teaching assistants are also used to help students design prototypes.

M&TSI creates an interest in integrating engineering and business curricula at the college level that may lead some students to apply to  Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology (M&T), one of the most sought after dual degree program at University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). In the M&T program, the students pursue a concentration of their choice in Wharton School of Business and in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The summary of MTSI provided here only highlights the engineering portion of the MTSI. The students go through a similarly rigorous schedule ( -taught by Jeffrey Babin, Senior Lecturer and Associate Director, Engineering Entrepreneurship) to grasp concepts in entrepreneurship, idea generation, and other management principles.


Figure 1. Introductory Courses in STEM

The introduction to electronics and embedded programming is far more exciting when it is coupled with process of product design. In addition to understanding product design strategies, the preparation for making a prototype requires skills in building hardware (circuitry, interfacing sensors with microcontrollers) and software ( CAD, Arduino programming).  Additionally, during the first  week of the class, students are introduced to the technology as applied to different areas in majors offered at SEAS. The broad perspective is important in their understanding of relevance of research in our economy. The second week includes rigorous introduction to sensors and  circuits interfaced to Arduino platform.

Figure 2. Engineering syllabus summary

There is extensive lab time allocated to learning the arduino platform. Each lab session lasts 4-5 hours and  teaching assistants (TA) provide coaching and mentorship to help help students gain a working knowledge of interfacing sensors to arduino using the arduino sketch programming. Some of the labs require a lab report and each of the lab modules have a pre-lab that students need to complete before coming to the laboratory. Students complete experiments in teams of 2 students providing the opportunity to explore laboratory teamwork. 

Figure 3. Examples of arduino based labs (from left) using photosensors on a robot,  and LCD display and Zigbee[wireless] interface to arduino.

During the third week, an open ended design challenge includes making a prototype of an idea that the team of students present to myself and my co-instructor, Jeffrey Babin. Teams generate TEN product concepts - the ideas of their product can be ANYTHING, provided it is  useful and it can be prototyped in 4-5 days. After two idea generation sessions, teams select  a “product”  and the required parts and accessories are made available from the lab inventory or vendors. The teams of students get evening and night access to lab facilities with supervision from lab teaching assistants and staff. The rush for making their hardware and software work together mimics the nature of hackathons, where fast paced group learning has a tremendous potential for creative thinking.

The highlight of the 3-week experience is a Product Fair is held on the last day of the program in the Detkin Lab immediately following a presentation about the team’s business and marketing plan.

Figure 4 : Student Innovations in the Product Fair (from left), self-weighing suitcase, an accelerometer based nap timer, a backpack with RFID to scan subject binders.

During the Product Fair the students display a poster with the Go-To-Market plan for their product concept and they conduct  demonstration of their prototype. The event is attended by many guests, members of the Penn community and the family members of the participating students.

The integration of learning about technologies, products, companies, and strategies, together with the experiencing these same topics in hands-on activities help students understand the engineering careers of as well as the demand and many skills required to succeed. . Innovation and project based learning that includes collaborative support “pulls” students to STEM  majors like Electrical and Computer Engineering.


MTSI is a 3-week summer program at UPenn and runs July 14-Aug 2 ( for year 2014). The program is taught by Jeffrey Babin ( Entrepreunership) and Sid Deliwala ( ESE). For more information about MTSI or M&T program, , please contact January Stayton at staytonj@wharton.upenn.edu.



student innovation

electronics as front end for pulling in students


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