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Helping students build a portfolio through design projects – featuring Ashley Hanson

How are we able to help give our students a leg-up when they prepare to enter the workforce? Creating a design project portfolio is a powerful way to give students a competitive advantage during interviews — something that is very much needed in today’s competitive job market. A well-crafted portfolio can be a powerful tool to showcase technical skills, achievements and potential to employers which will, in turn, set them apart from the competition. This will not only enhance their chances of being hired but also provide a solid foundation for growth and success in their careers.

In this spotlight article, Ashley Hanson, an instructor who teaches ME 187 Graphical Communication in the Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, describes how she has students create a design portfolio in her course.

Ashley Hanson
Ashley Hanson

Providing Students with an Advantage

When I was a student, I had the opportunity to work for a couple of different companies as an intern. My first internship was with the NorthWest Tissue Mechanics lab on campus. This was a great experience and helped me figure out what type of engineering career I wanted to achieve and the route I would take to achieve it. Most students do not realize that even as a sophomore in your designated program, you can start applying for internships. I always highly suggest this to my students so they can gain experience and figure out what they like and do not like for their future careers. 

Upon my interview for my second internship, which was at QTI Sensing Solutions, I was hired on the spot. I inquired about the instant job offer since it is standard to wait a day or two to hear back for the typical hiring process. I was told that after interviewing 14 other students, I was the only one who had brought in a portfolio to showcase my work. This really blew my mind! 

Upon starting my own engineering consulting company, I quickly realized that it was extremely hard to showcase any previous projects I had worked on due to the NDA’s that were signed. This is a problem a lot of technical students run into. I started thinking of different avenues that would respect confidential agreements while also finding creative ways to showcase skills and experience. These ideas are what brought me to creating a design project for my students to work on throughout the semester that they could then print and bind to create a portfolio to showcase their skills. 

The Design Project

I wanted to create an opportunity for my engineering students to create something in class that would give them hands-on experience, similar to a real-world application, while they learn new material and how to navigate a computer-aided design (CAD) program. Thus, in turn, enhancing their understanding of engineering concepts and enthusiasm for the field. I created a project that goes through the entire design process from start to finish. It is broken into six different milestones that flow with the material we cover in class. This creates the effect of “killing two birds with one stone” — learning skills and techniques through lecture material and hands-on experience.

Students are given a customer problem and are responsible for compiling different design limitations, specifications and required functions that are needed to satisfy the customers’ needs. This is a simulated customer problem to focus on reverse engineering. They then create hand sketches of potential design solutions which they continuously refine until the initial customer need is met and a prototype is created. Then, they create LEGO parts on the computer to serve as their 3D model and focus on design intent. This is broken into three separate milestones, each focusing on the modeling techniques covered during the weekly lectures.The n they start putting sub-assemblies together and creating technical drawings that show these sub-assemblies exploded apart and list a bill of materials. 

They work on this entire project throughout the semester so, at the end of the semester, they have a design portfolio created with individual part drawings, subassembly drawings and final assembly drawings with a bill of materials as well as the beginning customer statement and specifications they originally created. This is very similar to creating a CAD package for a client. Check out Erica Derby’s LEGO Helicopter Project or Samantha Jamison’s LEGO Off Roader Project for some project examples.

Tips, Tricks and Tools

I like to keep the tools used for this project very basic and up to the student. The students use SolidWorks, a CAD software, to build their parts, assemblies and technical drawings. This is the main program they learn to use throughout the semester. I like to make sure the milestones use the skills we discuss during the weekly lectures. I alternate weeks with a homework assignment and milestone project. Each assignment has the modeling problems set up to cover the newly covered concepts. I include a few video tutorials that students can follow along with to make sure they are creating their models correctly. This really helped eliminate early on-set problems when designing their models in a specific way. 

There are many ways to design a part model. They have free range with their design on homework assignments, but on milestone projects, they have to follow certain steps in order to earn full points. These steps go hand in hand with the lecture material and ensure the student understands what is being taught. Students then combine all of their technical drawings using Word to produce a finished PDF portfolio. 


Creating a document that covers the design process and demonstrates how the student approached the initial problem and navigated that to a finished product design provides tangible evidence of their ability to solve real-world design challenges. It showcases personal growth and development throughout the project and provides a visual representation of the student’s skills and knowledge set. It enables the student to demonstrate the versatility and wide range of skills that may be hard to explain in a written traditional resume. By presenting a comprehensive and visually appealing portfolio during interviews, students not only demonstrate their qualifications but also leave a lasting impression on potential employers.


If you’d like to learn more about how to design your online course to include projects and/or portfolios, request a consultation with an eCampus staff member.

If you’d like to discuss this specific project, please contact Ashley Hanson (

Article Credit

Thanks to Ashley Hanson for conceptualizing and writing this spotlight article.