“My philosophy with engineering is that it’s best learned in the context of how you’d practice it,” says Martin Culpepper, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. To that end, he makes sure that students taking 2.72 Elements of Mechanical Design, not only build a working lathe but create a budget and schedule for the work. And at the end of the term each of the lathes is put through a “death test”: a drop from the height of a desk, followed by several blows from a sledgehammer. The idea is to demonstrate that the final product could actually stand up to use in the workplace.

The approach is popular. When 2.72 was first offered about seven years ago, 16 students signed up. Now, says Culpepper, “every year we have between 70 and 100 people who want to take the course, and we can only fit 30,” necessitating an application process.

The students who do secure a spot in the course take their final assignment seriously. No team has ever failed the test, Culpepper notes. “We teach students that if you do the right math, engineering, and testing, everything will work out just fine.”

Watch a 90 second video of one team’s lathe put to the test.

Watch the team’s completed lathe in action.

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