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Class: Materials in a Circular Economy (ME 416)

Year: Fall 2019

Goal: To write a thesis report on a topic related to "Materials in a Circular Economy" with thorough research. The topic must be applicable in real life for a meaningful purpose.


  • Report analyzing and suggesting means of implementing concepts of circular economy to the mechanical engineering curriculum at The Cooper Union

  • Conducted an anonymous, open-ended survey representing all grades and engineering majors at The Cooper Union

  • Thorough research and personal experience as a current mechanical engineering student at The Cooper Union

Technical Details

This Case study offers recommendations for implementing concepts of materials in a circular economy in engineering education, specifically for the Mechanical Engineering curriculum at the Cooper Union Albert Nerken School of Engineering.

The Cooper Union is an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited school located in the heart of New York City, with an average enrollment of about 450 undergraduate students. The school maintains allows for personal attention and a tight knit community due to the small class sizes in courses and laboratories. The Cooper Union offers Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.) degree programs in Chemical, Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineering accredited by the EAC commissioners of ABET, and the Mechanical Engineering department has less than 30 students per grade. The Cooper Union typically has around 24 students in the Masters of Engineering (M.E.) program, with about 6 per engineering department.

Because Earth has limited resources but we live in a consumption-heavy society, a shift towards a circular economy is needed. In order to successfully implement this shift, however, a systematic, paradigm change is needed as consumerism and concepts if linear economy is deeply rooted in everything we do. Changes need to be made in manufacturing, design, policy, consumer behavior, and more.

Education, specifically integrating concepts of circular economy into existing engineering curricula, can be a great solution. Through education, active citizens with the thoughts and habits of the circular economy can be nurtured, and help promote this shift. Various educational institutions have implemented such changes, introducing graduate level courses, majors, and classes with concepts of sustainability and the environment.

Education can train new minds and skills that can be “active citizens” to accept the current limitations and dire need to change towards a circular economy & methods of doing so. Through education, students can start thinking “sustainability” as a required criteria for consideration in design, instead of just thinking of manufacturability, costs, or profitability.

At the Cooper Union, an ABET accredited institution, simple changes could help successfully integrate concepts of circular economy by implementing specific goals and requirements for engineering students. In this paper, the mechanical engineering curriculum specifically was discussed, with a well-represented survey of current engineering students at The Cooper Union.

These suggestions for change can be easily adapted to different programs or to different schools. Through education, students and thus citizens can become more aware of the environment and sustainability, and hopefully incite and implement the shift towards a circular economy.

The thesis can be found here and the presentation can be found here.

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