June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.30.1 - 14.30.9
A Fully Interdisciplinary Approach to Capstone Design Courses 1. Introduction We live in an era with unprecedented changes due to dramatic advances in technology on many fronts. The explosive growth in computing and communication has revolutionized the way we work and live. Increasingly the engineering work force is becoming more diverse with teams working with global foci. These forces of globalization, demographics, and technological advances are changing the role of engineering in society1, calling for changes in the way universities address the engineering profession and education. It is important for students to gain the skills needed for this changing global economy and working environment. Engineers are increasingly required to be purveyors of technological solutions and must work together with marketing and business components in new product development. While we still must equip our engineers with strong technical skills, proficiency in areas such as communication, leadership, innovation, business and entrepreneurship is also necessary. This requires an interdisciplinary approach to engineering education. Simply adding marketing and business courses to the engineering curriculum often results in compartmentalized knowledge that does not provide experience and intuition into the complex relationships between the business and engineering aspects of product development.
Currently, the capstone experience in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern California is similar in style and content to most other universities. Using a one semester (15-week) course, students receive loosely-defined design or product objectives either from faculty or industry sponsors, perform trade-off and other design analysis, complete a prototype, and prepare a written and oral presentation for review by panelists from industry or other faculty. In the spring of 2008, the Viterbi School of Engineering and Marshall School of Business piloted a program to integrate an engineering capstone design course (currently in computer and electrical engineering) with a product development and branding marketing course. Teams of engineering and marketing students are given a product to design and select a specific brand. The team works together to define system requirements and features that are consistent with their brand’s customer base and pricing, while also performing market research with potential customers. Based on the results, the engineering teams design, implement and test a prototype while having to meet cost and other design constraints. Teams also enlisted help from external designers and artists for product packaging, models, and marketing materials. Results from the initial offering were excellent and the partnership is now expanding to include the School of Fine Arts for the product packaging and design materials. Above all, this pilot program provides a model for other cross-school, cross-departmental ventures in an effort to produce graduates capable of excelling in today’s fast-paced, global economy.
2. Motivation and Background The terms multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary are often used interchangeably, but originally the terms refer to different problem solving approaches10. By definition, multidisciplinary refers to collaborations of scholars and industry partners whose work is grounded in, and preserves the integrity of multiple established disciplines. However, if teams maintain these boundaries they often reach a point where their problem solving cannot progress adequately. It then becomes essential for team members to stretch beyond the fringes of their own disciplines to formulate
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