Robert Nagel image
  • Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Oregon State University in 2010
  • M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2006
  • B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Trine University in 2005
Scholarly Interests and Research Topics

Nagel's specialization is design theory and methodology.  Specifically, his research interests include understanding customer needs, functional and process modeling, and failure analysis, design for sustainability, design of mechatronic systems, and systems integration.


Robert Nagel joined the JMU Department of Engineering in 2010 after completing his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Oregon State University. 

He is an engineer, an educator, a scholar, and a mentor. Nagel strives to create educational experiences which mimic engineering practice giving students opportunities to learn engineering by doing engineering. In his classes, he incorporates real industry projects and has partnered with Northrop Grumman, General Motors, Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, and Stanley, Black and Decker in curricular courses, independent studies, capstone, and elective courses. His collaborations are with faculty in engineering and beyond: communication studies, industrial design, occupational therapy, kinesiology, and music education to create cross-disciplinary learning experiences encouraging student curiosity and connection making to create real value. 

Nagel serves as a leader for James Madison University’s partnership with Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN), a national network centered around the common goal of fostering curiosity, connection making, and value creation in engineering education, and he held national leadership roles in both the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Design Education Conference (DEC) and American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Design in Engineering Education Division (DEED). He was the previous director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering Education. 

Scholarly Interests

Nagel’s scholarship seeks to understand the learning effectiveness of interventions and pedagogies often used in engineering design education. The following questions drive his scholarship:

  • How does an understanding of engineered systems influence the ability to learn design? Engineers use qualitative reasoning in analysis and design. One type of qualitative reasoning thought to influence students’ understanding of how engineered systems work is functional modeling. Dr Nagel is finding that functional modeling provides students with an approach to develop and adapt their knowledge of systems as they learn engineering and do engineering design. His research on the development of mental models has led to new approaches for teaching functional modeling, has influenced how functional modeling is taught, and has implications on other qualitative reasoning approaches such as free-body diagrams.
  • How does hands-on making enhance one’s education in engineering and design? Without knowing the answers to this question, countless millions of dollars internationally have been spent by universities to develop and implement academic maker spaces. His work seeks to answer this question by exploring the challenges and benefits associated with recent innovations to incorporate maker spaces into academic environments. Dr. Nagel has found that through engagement in academic maker spaces, engineering students’ design confidence, motivation, and belief in their own success are enhanced, while anxiety decreases. Further, findings show that students demonstrate gains in interpersonal, intrapersonal, and intellectual skills through their engagement in making related activities.
Select Publications
  • Alemán, M. W., Tomko, M., Linsey, J. S., and Nagel, R. L., 2022, “How Do You Play that Makerspace Game?: An Ethnographic Exploration of the Habitus of Engineering Makerspaces,” Research in Engineering Design, 33, 351-366,
  • Tomko, M., Aleman, M., Newstetter, W., Nagel, R., and Linsey, J., 2022, “A Methodological Roadmap for Phenomenologically Based Interviewing in Engineering Education: Identifying Types of Learning in Makerspaces,” Studies in Engineering Education, 2(1), 100-118,
  • Tomko, M., Alemán, M., Nagel, R., Newstetter, W., and Linsey, J., 2021, “Changing the Narrative Around Making: Understanding Women’s Pathways into University Makerspaces,” Journal of Engineering Education, 110(3),
  • Tomko, M., Nagel, R.L., Newstetter, W., Smith, S., Talley, K.G., Linsey, J., 2021, “Making a Makerspace: Identified Practices in the Formation of a University Makerspace,” Engineering Studies, 13(1),
  • Tomko, M., Newstetter, W., Aleman M., Nagel, R.L., and Linsey, J.S., ,2020, “Academic makerspaces as a ‘design journey’: Developing a learning model for how women students tap into their ‘toolbox of design’,” Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing, 34(3),
  • Hilton, E.C., Talley, K.G., Smith, S.F., Nagel, R.L., and Linsey, J.S., 2020, “Report on Engineering Design Self-Efficacy and Demographics of Makerspace Participants across Three Universities,” Journal of Mechanical Design, 142(10),
  • Nagel, R.L., Holland, S.K., Gipson, K.G., Henriques, J.J., and Paterson, K.G., 2020, “Creating an Ecosystem that Fosters Innovation and Entrepreneurial Mindset at an Undergraduate Institution through Pathways to Innovation,” Advances in Engineering Education, 8(1), 1-13,
  • Murphy, A.R., Ingram, H.E., Nelson, J.T.*, Bohm, M.R. Linsey, J.S., Nagel, R.L., 2019, “An Update to a Functional Modeling Scoring Rubric with Overall and Question-Level Inter-Rater Reliability,” Journal of Mechanical Design, 141(8),
  • Tomko, M.**, Nelson, J.*, Nagel, R.L., Linsey, J., and Bohm, M., 2017, “A Bridge to Systems Thinking in Engineering Design: An Examination Students’ Ability to Identify Functions at Varying Levels of Abstraction,” Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing, 31:4, pp 535-549,
  • Bohm, M.R., Nagel, R.L., and Riggs, M.K., 2017, “Utilizing Design Intent Information to Aid in the Synthesis of Multi-Domain Systems,” Computer-Aided Design and Applications, 14:1, pp 17-27,
  • Nagel, R.L., Bohm, M.R., Linsey, J., and Riggs, M., 2015, “Improving Students' Functional Modeling Skills: A More Efficient Approach to Teaching Functional Modeling,” Journal of Mechanical Design, 137:5,  pp 051102,
  • Nagel, R.L., Nagel, J.K., Gipson, K.G., and Moran, T., 2015, “Impacting the Community through a Sophomore Design Experience,” International Journal of Service Learning in Engineering - Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship, Special Issue: University Engineering Programs That Impact Communities:  Critical Analyses and Reflections, pp 439-459.
  • Nagel, R., Hutcheson, R., McAdams, D., and Stone, R., 2011, “Process and Event Modelling for Conceptual Design,” Journal of Engineering Design, 22:3, pp 145-164,
  • Nagel, R., Vucovich, J., Stone, R., and McAdams, D., 2008, “A Signal Grammar to Guide Functional Modeling of Electromechanical Products.” Journal of Mechanical Design, 130:5, 051101,

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