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Gary E. Frank headshot

Howard's Interdisciplinary Maker Space Aims to Prepare Students for the Future of Work

Howard University's department of mechanical engineering will soon be home to an interdisciplinary maker space and innovation lab, where students can interact with peers from other disciplines such as architecture, science and business, thanks to a $1 million gift from Autodesk.
By Gary E. Frank
Howard University - Aerial

Howard University's department of mechanical engineering will soon be home to an interdisciplinary maker space and innovation lab, where students can interact with peers from other disciplines such as architecture, science and business, thanks to a $1 million gift from Autodesk.

“This donation will help us better train and prepare the next generation of interdisciplinary engineers with the hands-on and digital skills necessary for the fast-evolving future workforce,” Nadir Yilmaz, chair and professor of Howard's department of mechanical engineering, told TriplePundit. “Such an interdisciplinary space, equipped with state-of-the art hardware and Autodesk software, will be used not only to teach courses such as CAD/CAM/CAE [computer-aided design, manufacturing and engineering], but also to provide students a medium where they can conceptualize ideas, find innovative solutions to today’s interdisciplinary grand challenges, and take advantage of experiential learning opportunities from freshmen year until graduation.”

The largest ever unrestricted gift to the department is the latest chapter of a five-year partnership between Autodesk and the historically Black university. In addition to Autodesk’s donation of its industry-grade software, Howard mechanical engineering students have received technical support from Autodesk experts, including hands-on software trainings provided both on-campus and virtually, and used cloud-based, high-power computing capabilities for Fusion 360 Generative Design, Yilmaz told 3p. 

“The Autodesk Student Ambassador program allowed our students to train their peers in CAD, CAM, CAE and generative design for Autodesk Certification,” Yilmaz said. Students have also participated in Autodesk Design Slam Competitions and attended annual Autodesk University conferences with the company’s support.

Fusion 360 is a cloud-based 3D modeling software which provides CAD, CAM, CAE, and printed circuit board (PCB) features within the same platform for professional product design and manufacturing. Howard University is one of the first academic institutions to have access to Fusion 360 Generative Design when it was previously only available to industry, Yilmaz said. 

“As a result of Autodesk providing support with free software and services, we advocated for Fusion 360 to train students with the professional-level software that combines multiple capabilities within the same platform and has a reputation for being user-friendly,” he said.

The company also collaborates with Howard University on curriculum development using Autodesk Fusion 360 and has hosted Fusion 360 workshops for students. Autodesk’s HBCU Tech Program provides career pathways to students at Howard and three other historically Black colleges and universities. As part of the HBCU Tech Program, students with computer science and engineering backgrounds have received paid externships at Autodesk. Students have also collaborated with Autodesk staff on specially curated projects, taking on technical challenges such as robotics security and manufacturing workflows, while gaining valuable work experience.

Providing tools like these to traditionally under-resourced students can make a real difference in the future of the field. Today, only 3.1 percent of the mechanical engineers in the United States are Black, according to research from career and jobs website Zippia. Of the Black engineers in the workforce, 40 percent received their degrees from an HBCU. 

As its mission statement reads, "The College of Engineering and Architecture at Howard University aspires to leverage its unique culture and strengths to become nationally recognized for providing a pathway to opportunities and careers in engineering, computer science, and architecture for Black and other underserved students, developing leaders who are inspired to serve humanity through their knowledge and innovation, and forging technologies and designing built environments that impact the Black community, as well as promote greater social prosperity." 

“Autodesk’s continued support of our faculty and students also positively impacts our efforts to train and develop engineers who become tomorrow’s leaders in education, government and industry,” added John M. M. Anderson, dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture.  

The news of the donation was also welcomed by mechanical engineering students. “They are very excited about how the donation from Autodesk will be utilized to enhance the student learning experience, with up-to-date digital tools and hardware and experiential opportunities, which will prepare them as industry-ready engineers for the fast-evolving, competitive workforce,” Yilmaz said.

Image courtesy of Howard University via Globe Newswire

Gary E. Frank headshot

Gary E. Frank is a writer with more than 30 years of experience encompassing journalism, marketing, media relations, speech writing, university communications and corporate communications. 

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