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Alex BirdwellAssociate Professor of Instruction and Academic AdvisorCo-Director of Design Thinking and Communication


Alex Birdwell is immensely passionate about teaching and has covered an array of courses within the mechanical engineering department and the Segal Design Institute. His current courses focus on user-centered design, capstone experience for mechanical engineering students, and promoting anti-racism through Art and Making. Alex strives to engage his students with real-world applications and examples, open dialogue and discussions during class, and unique classroom demonstrations created with everyday objects. His teaching methods seek to bridge the gap between knowledge students already possess and new concepts that challenge and expand existing mindsets.

Alex is an academic advisor and works with students in the Manufacturing and Design Engineering (MaDE) program. He has previously served as an advisor in Mechanical Engineering and for first-year students across all engineering disciplines. His advising model centers around helping students define their objectives while working with them to become self-sufficient individuals balancing multiple commitments and discovering an optimal path for their time at Northwestern and beyond.

Alex currently serves as the co-director for Design Thinking and Communication (DTC), along with Dr. Michele Zugnoni (Cook Family Writing Program) and is a faculty advisor for the NU Robotics Club, which is co-advised with Professor Nick Marchuk.


PhD, Mechanical Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

MS, Mechanical Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

BS, Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech, Atlanta, GA


Robotics, Biomechanics, Rehabilitation Engineering, Engineering Education, Digital Learning Technologies

Significant Recognition

2016 Cole-Higgins Award for Excellence in Advising

2013 - 2014 Faculty Honor Roll, as voted by Northwestern's Associated Student Government

Courses taught

DSGN 106-1 & 2 - Design Thinking and Communication 1 & 2 (DTC)

DSGN 395 - Art, Making, and Anti-Racism

ME 220 - Introduction to Thermodynamics

ME 224 - Experimental Engineering

ME 240 - Introduction to Mechanical Design and Manufacturing

ME 340-1 - Manufacturing Processes

ME 398 - Capstone Design

Selected publications

Bacon HKK, Birdwell JA, Brown O, Tevaarwerk E, Freeman RW, Roldan W, Gentry KL, and Pokryfky AR. Academic Advising and Student Affairs Working Together to Improve First-year Experience of Engineering Students. 125th Annual Conference of ASEE. Salt Lake City, UT USA, June 24-27, 2018.

Freeman RW, Birdwell JA, Tevaarwerk E, Gentry KL, and Brown O. Engineering and Technology Literacy Introduced in Cornerstone Design Courses. 125th Annual Conference of ASEE. Salt Lake City, UT USA, June 24-27, 2018.

DeCosta ET, Birdwell JA, Gentry K, Freeman RW, and Wolff AR (2017, June), Work in Progress: Analyzing Student Outcomes to Inform First-Year Advising Practices and Policies at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering
Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio.

Birdwell JA and Peshkin MA.; Capturing Technical Lectures on Lightboard. 122nd American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, WA, USA, June 14-17, 2015.

Birdwell JA, Hargrove LJ, Weir RF, and Kuiken RA. Extrinsic Finger and Thumb Muscles Command a Virtual Hand to Allow Individual Finger and Grasp Control. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering. 62(1): 218-226. 2014.

Cariani, C, Segil, JL, Birdwell, JA, and Weir, RF.& Dexterous Control of a Prosthetic Hand Using Fine-Wire Intramuscular Electrodes in Targeted Extrinsic Muscles. IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering. 2014.

Birdwell JA, Hargrove LJ, Kuiken TA, and Weir RF. Isolated Activation of the Extrinsic Thumb Muscles and Compartments of the Extrinsic Finger Muscles. J Neurophysiology. 2013.

Birdwell JA, Hargrove LJ, Weir RF. Quantification of Isolated Muscle Compartment Activity in Extrinsic Finger Muscles for Potential Prosthesis Control Sites. 33RD Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, Boston, USA, 2011.

Birdwell JA, Solomon JH, Thajchayapong M, Taylor MA, Cheely M, Towal RB, Conradt J, and Hartmann MJ. Biomechanical models for radial distance determination by the rat vibrissal system. J Neurophysiol 98: 2439-2455, 2007. The model presented in this paper is now referred to within the research community as "The Birdwell Model."

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