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A laboratory course on the theory, fabrication, and characterization of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) devices for a multidisciplinary audience of graduate students at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, has been developed. Hands-on experience in the cleanroom has attracted graduate students from across the university's engineering and science campuses, including students from the Nano-Science and Micro Systems program, itself an interdisciplinary program. This course has been offered yearly for the last four years (since 2007) at the University of New Mexico. In one project from the class, a MEMS actuator is fabricated. This paper details the theory, fabrication steps, and characterization of a silicon-on-insulator (SOI) comb drive actuator that relies on fixed-fixed beams for its restoring force. Discussions include force generation by comb drives and a linear and nonlinear description of the restoring force applied by the fixed-fixed beams. Course assessment data is given from 79 students from three semesters, based on which the effectiveness of the laboratory project is evaluated.