Stanford University's ME310
ME310 at Stanford University was founded in 1967 as a project-based course for mechanical engineering graduate students. The premise was simple. Local companies in the San Francisco Bay Area would challenge Stanford students to develop innovative solutions to their problems. While the notion of a PBL-based course may be common nowadays, the idea was radical at the time.
As the course was linked to the demands of the industry, the projects topics changed over time. In the 90s, smart products became more popular as mechanical systems were starting to integrate with electronic and software systems. In the early 2000s, Professor Larry Leifer, the course instructor for ME310 and also the Founding Director of the Center for Design Research, tried an experiment. Instead of just Stanford students working on the projects, through his academic connections, he invited students from other universities to join the teams. In his experience, teams with the most diversity yielded the best results, and how could a team be more diverse than being placed halfway around the world?
At first not all project teams were "globally distributed," and not all teams had successful results. While the milestones and curriculum were designed for Stanford students in the Silicon Valley culture, they didn't necessarily translate to students abroad. Nevertheless, the experimentation continued and improvements were made every year. For example, once it was discovered that having a face-to-face meeting at the beginning of the project lead to better results, the global kickoff workshop was created, which is now a staple of the program. In 2006, ME310 decided to make all their projects globally distributed, which still continues to this day.
After more than a half century, ME310 at Stanford University continues to develop world-class engineers, product developers, and entrepreneurs while also creating breakthrough innovations for international corporations.
If you want to learn more about the history of ME310, be sure to check out ME310 at Stanford University: 50 Years of Redesign.
"We are imbedded in the globalization age.
Most any job our students would be taking would be with globally-active companies.
One needs global collaboration skills
and this is a natural extension of co-located teamwork collaboration."
Professor Larry Leifer, Stanford University
the SUGAR Network
So far in the history of ME310, all the projects were conducted between Stanford and other universities. However in 2009, three "non-Stanford" projects began, two between Ecole des Ponts ParisTech in France and Aalto University in Finland, and one between Aalto and the Kyoto Institute of Technology. At this time, Professor Sushi Suzuki was teaching the program at Ecole des Ponts ParisTech and Professor Keita Tatara was teaching the program at the Kyoto Institute of Technology.
During this time, the name SUGAR network was unofficially created while the "non-Stanford" projects joined the Stanford events such as the kickoff workshop and final EXPO. A turning point came in 2011 when the number of "non-Stanford" projects became too big that they were forced to hold a separate kickoff event as the resources available at Stanford simply could not handle the size. Around this time, the name SUGAR network became more official, and colloquially, the projects involving Stanford came to be known as ME310 projects while "non-Stanford" projects became known as SUGAR. This is also why the program at the Kyoto Institute of Technology is known as ME310/SUGAR.
The SUGAR network grew exponentially and in the 2018-2019 program year, over 20 universities and 200 students were involved in 30+ projects. The growth of the SUGAR network also lead to the diversification of projects and students. In the early years of ME310 Global, most of the students were mechanical engineering and most of the projects were hardware product innovation challenges posed by multinational manufacturing companies with research offices in Silicon Valley. Now students from computer science, design, architecture, business, and even the humanities join the program. The types of projects have diversified as well with more software and services company becoming sponsors.
The SUGAR network continues to grow every year with more projects, new universities, and new corporate partners every year. To find out more about the SUGAR Network, visit their website.
the Kyoto Institute
The beginning of ME310/SUGAR at the Kyoto Institute of Technology was very grassroots. In 2009–2010, the course instructor at Aalto University was looking for a last-minute partner university for one of his projects. Unable to find one in the existing network of universities, he asked a KIT student who was studying abroad in Finland to assemble a team in Japan. The student quickly assembled four members in Japan who found the program interesting and joined unofficially, unbeknownst to the university. This is how ME310 came to Kyoto. The university, quickly realizing that their students are part of an international network, started supporting the program. For the next several years, Kyoto Institute of Technology and Aalto University collaborated on several projects together.
In 2015, after the KYOTO Design Lab was established and Sushi Suzuki joined as an associate professor, the network of universities and companies that the Kyoto Institute of Technology expanded. With the new resources available at the KYOTO Design Lab, KIT has been executing multiple projects every year and has become a core member of the SUGAR Network, having working with close to ten different universities around the world.
To find out more about the projects at the KYOTO Design lab, visit their website.