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A Blank Slate: Creating A New Senior Engineering Capstone Experience

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Capstone Design III

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.8.1 - 13.8.13



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Paper Authors


Mark Chang Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Mark L. Chang is an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

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Jessica Townsend Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Jessica Townsend is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Blank Slate: Creating a New Senior Engineering Capstone Experience


This paper presents some of the challenges, successes, and experiences in designing a new senior engineering capstone program at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Senior capstone design programs in engineering colleges have evolved over many years and are often modified and reinvented to keep up with the needs of both students and external constituencies. Harvey Mudd College’s Clinic program is one of the largest and longest-running capstone programs in the country that relies heavily on industry sponsors to provide real world problems and funding to execute the projects. For many reasons, and in no small way because of its track record of success, our own capstone course offering is modeled closely upon the Harvey Mudd Clinic program.

However, completely importing a well-established program into a different context would be haphazard at best, and would ignore a unique opportunity to retool the program to meet the specific needs of a different college. This paper presents our experience in developing SCOPE, the Senior Consulting Program for Engineering at Olin College, and applying lessons learned from the Clinic Program and other successful capstone programs. We discuss the difficulties such as recruiting industry sponsors for a new and unproven program, developing assessment methodologies, and developing the policies and procedures needed to keep the program running smoothly and in a sustainable fashion. Through this narrative, the authors endeavor to inform other programs that are in need of modification, and educators who find themselves with the opportunity to start a capstone program from the ground up.

Olin College Background

Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is a new, four-year engineering school in Needham, Massachusetts. The college was started and funded by the New York-based Olin Foundation, which has awarded grants totaling more than $300 million to construct and fully equip 72 buildings on 57 independent college campuses. Starting in the late 1980's, the National Science Foundation and engineering community at large started calling for reform in engineering education. In order to serve the needs of the growing global economy, it was clear that engineers needed to have business and entrepreneurship skills, creativity and an understanding of the social, political and economic contexts of engineering. The F.W. Olin Foundation decided the best way to maximize its impact was to help create a college to address these emerging needs. The Foundation's commitment in excess of $400 million to Olin College remains one of the largest such commitments in the history of American higher education.

The college officially opened in Fall 2002 to its inaugural freshman class. During the prior year, thirty student "partners" worked with Olin's faculty to create and test an innovative curriculum that infused a rigorous engineering education with business and entrepreneurship as well as the arts, humanities and social sciences. They developed a hands-on, interdisciplinary approach that better reflects actual engineering practice. From the beginning, it was clear that a two-semester,

Chang, M., & Townsend, J. (2008, June), A Blank Slate: Creating A New Senior Engineering Capstone Experience Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4129

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