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Marquette University Integrates Model-Based Design into Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering Curriculum


Teach engineering students to solve real-world, multidisciplinary problems with the tools and system design approach used by practicing engineers


Integrate Model-Based Design with MATLAB and Simulink into all four years of the undergraduate mechanical engineering curriculum


  • Engineering communication skills acquired
  • Graduates prepared to apply Model-Based Design in their careers
  • Students motivated with real-world challenges

“I tell my students the same thing I tell engineers who have been practicing for 30 years: Model-Based Design is the key to solving the problems we face. MATLAB and Simulink are the tools, and modeling is the language of modern engineering practice.”

Dr. Kevin Craig, Marquette University
Diagram, created by Kevin Craig, representing the engineering disciplines within mechatronics and their applications.

Mechanical engineering students at Marquette University apply Model-Based Design throughout their undergraduate studies. The curriculum, which emphasizes Model-Based Design and human-centered design in multidisciplinary systems engineering, is part of a department-wide effort to foster learning by having the students solve real-world engineering problems.

“When students learn Model-Based Design, they see how engineers really work in organizations that recognize the value of modeling and simulation,” says Dr. Kevin Craig, Robert C. Greenheck Chair in Engineering Design and professor of mechanical engineering at Marquette. “They also learn to speak the universal language of engineering, which is modeling.”


Marquette mechanical engineering faculty recognized a compelling need to modify the curriculum. “Many college students today are too focused on their next grade or their GPA,” Craig explains. “We wanted our students to take ownership of the challenge before them, be motivated to learn, and integrate all they learned.”

From their experience in industry, Craig and his colleagues recognized a need for engineers who use modeling as the basis for design. “Companies taking a design-build-test approach can save lab time and development costs by simulating models,” says Craig. “We want our students to learn the advantages of modeling for system design, because that is the approach they will use when they graduate and work with other engineers.”


Marquette integrated Model-Based Design with MATLAB® and Simulink® into multidisciplinary engineering system design courses in all four undergraduate years.

First-year students take Engineering Discovery 1, in which they model, simulate, and analyze basic electrical, mechanical, fluid, thermal, and electromechanical systems using MATLAB and Simulink, and then validate their models with hardware experiments.

In Engineering Discovery 2, students apply the same modeling and simulation approach, as well as computer programming in MATLAB, to energy-related products, systems, and processes.

In the second year, the focus shifts to discipline-specific courses. Mechanical engineering students in Electromechanical Engineering Systems use MATLAB and Simulink to model simple electrical systems made up of resistors and capacitors. Via simulation they explore the effects of undersampling on aliasing. They then compare simulation results with measurements taken on actual circuits in the lab.

In the same course, students study basic controller design and model a proportional-integral controller for an RC circuit. Using Simulink Coder™ they generate code from their model and run it on an Arduino® microcontroller, comparing the results on the lab oscilloscope with the simulation results.

In the third-year course Multidisciplinary Engineering Systems, the students use Model-Based Design to develop classical controls for thermal, electromechanical, and fluid power systems. They design the controllers using root locus and frequency response techniques with Control System Toolbox™. They are introduced to Simscape Electrical®, Simscape Fluids™, and Simscape Multibody™ for modeling physical systems, and are encouraged to use these products on their own.

In the Mechatronics course, fourth-year students design and build a two-wheeled self-balancing transporter. They use MATLAB and Simulink to model the mechanical structure, motors, sensors, and control electronics. With System Identification Toolbox™ they estimate friction and other system parameters.

The linear quadratic regulator control for balancing the transporter is developed in MATLAB, and the proportional-integral-derivative control for steering and forward-backward motion is developed using Simulink Control Design™. Students automatically generate control, sensing, and RF communication code from their Simulink model for deployment on an Arduino microcontroller.

Fourth-year students also use Model-Based Design for capstone design projects, which often involve partnering with local companies.


  • Engineering communication skills acquired. “MATLAB and Simulink are the gold standard in modeling and simulation,” says Craig. “When our students learn Model-Based Design, they also learn to communicate effectively with other engineers even if they don’t share a common spoken language.”

  • Graduates prepared to apply Model-Based Design in their careers. “Many companies I work with are trying to change their culture and adopt Model-Based Design,” says Craig. “Our graduates are ready to step in and be the catalyst for change in those companies, because they have used Model-Based Design for four years.”

  • Students motivated with real-world challenges. “As educators, we have to appeal to our students with real problems that motivate them,” says Craig. “When students combine the use of MATLAB and Simulink with hardware to solve practical challenges, their desire to learn is maximized. Anything short of that is inadequate.”

Marquette University is among the 1300 universities worldwide that provide campus-wide access to MATLAB and Simulink. With the Campus-Wide License, researchers, faculty, and students have access to a common configuration of products, at the latest release level, for use anywhere—in the classroom, at home, in the lab or in the field.