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A Partnership Between Capstone Design And K 12 Outreach

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Capstone Design I

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.84.1 - 14.84.9



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Paper Authors


Craig Somerton Michigan State University

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Craig W. Somerton is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the Undergraduate Program for Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He teaches in the area of thermal engineering including thermodynamics, heat transfer, and thermal design. He also teaches the capstone design course for the department. Dr. Somerton has research interests in computer design of thermal systems, transport phenomena in porous media, and application of continuous quality improvement principles to engineering education. He received his B.S. in 1976, his M.S. in 1979, and his Ph.D. in 1982, all in engineering from UCLA.

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

A Partnership between Capstone Design and K-12 Outreach

Introduction The nation continues to face a shortage of engineers. Concurrently, public schools are struggling financially and making severe budget cuts which significantly impact STEM enrichment programs. This can lead to even a further reduction of potential engineers in the pipeline. The mechanical engineering design program at Michigan State University has addressed this issue by partnering with a local elementary school on capstone design projects. A team of mechanical engineering students work with the 5th grade class at the local engineering magnate school on their capstone project that addresses a school equipment need. Projects have included a solar heating system for a worm-based compost system, a global warming demonstrator, and a solar thermal collector experiment. In addition to completing the technical design project, the engineering students present several lessons to the 5th grade class addressing the engineering design method and the basic science concepts’ of the design project. The design team also develops a web site with activities intended to engage the 5th graders in the project.

The coupling between a capstone design experience and K-12 outreach is not unique. Electrical engineering students at the University of Cincinnati performed their capstone project as part of the NSF STEP Fellows program [1]. At Western Michigan University, the Engineering Design Center for Service-Learning addresses equipment needs for K-12 schools with combined teams of both engineering and educations students [2]. However, a long term relationship with a fifth grade class as reported in this paper is unique.

This paper shares the development of this partnership, including the initial contacts, the solicitation of funding, and the identification of projects. Descriptions of the projects are provided. Finally, feedback from all participants is provided. The paper should serve as a guide to other programs that wish to pursue these sorts of partnerships.

The Partners Woodcreek Elementary School is one of four elementary level magnate schools in an urban school district. As a magnet elementary school, the curriculum focus is math, science, and engineering. Teachers consistently incorporate hands-on materials and activities to help students grasp technical concepts. One instructional position is dedicated to the school’s Engineering Center, and this teacher leads these hands-on activities. The school has several recycling projects and is dedicated to instilling in its students a green mentality. As an urban school, the student makeup is extremely diverse with approximately 80% of the students being minorities.

ME 481 serves as the capstone design course in the mechanical engineering program at Michigan State University. Student teams of 3 to 5 members are assigned real world projects for the semester. Most of these projects are sponsored by industry, but each semester a few are humanitarian projects that look to serve the community. Some previous projects have linked the capstone course with a public school through the design of devices to assist children with physical disabilities. These have included a recumbent cycle, a shower cart, and a desk chair.

The first of the partnership projects came about due to the publicity of one of these humanitarian capstone projects, Solar Ovens for Tanzania. The engineering teacher at Woodcreek read the

Somerton, C. (2009, June), A Partnership Between Capstone Design And K 12 Outreach Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4748

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015