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An Integrated Approach To Grading A Mechanical Engineering Capstone Design Course At The United States Military Academy

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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

Design: Content and Context

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.183.1 - 13.183.14

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Paper Authors


Richard Melnyk United States Military Academy

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Major Rich Melnyk graduated from West Point in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. He earned a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2003 and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix in 2007. He served as an Instructor and Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering at West Point from 2004 to 2007. During that time, Major Melnyk was the course director for two of the three courses in the capstone design sequence for Mechanical Engineering majors. He is currently attending the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff Officer’s Course at Fort Leavenworth, KS.

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Daisie Boettner United States Military Academy

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Colonel Daisie Boettner graduated from West Point in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree. She earned a Master of Science in Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) from the University of Michigan in 1991 and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from The Ohio State University in 2001. She has taught courses in thermal-fluid systems, heat transfer, and design. She is currently Director of the Mechanical Engineering Program, Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY.

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

An Integrated Approach to Grading a Mechanical Engineering Capstone Design Course at the United States Military Academy


Many mechanical engineering departments offer a capstone design course that requires undergraduate students to apply the wide array of theory and skills learned in previous courses. At the United States Military Academy, a key component of the Mechanical Engineering program’s capstone design course, Mechanical System Design, is the requirement for each student team to build and test a prototype of its design. Teamwork and open-ended, real-world problems are vital to this course. However, the faculty has had some difficulty in the past assigning fair, objective grades to students in this course for several reasons. One, capstone designs are more open-ended than traditional courses in which grading can be more standardized and objective. Two, capstone design courses tend to be more decentralized and time-intensive requiring the use of many capstone advisors. As a result, there tends to be a wider deviation among graders. Third, many of the tangible results of the capstone process are presented in briefings and not examinations or papers. Grading oral presentations tends to be more subjective than grading written deliverables. Finally, faculty can encounter difficulty ensuring individual grades reflect the quantity and value of individual work and not just the collective grade of the group. This paper outlines the various steps the mechanical engineering faculty took to provide a more standardized, objective, fair grading process in the capstone course. These steps include use of a non-numeric rubric for grading briefings, graded peer reviews, a more objective rubric for grading written documents, and the use of course directors to standardize the grading process.


The mechanical engineering curriculum at the United States Military Academy (USMA) includes a capstone design project as a culminating experience that draws on fundamental engineering concepts students have learned in their previous course work. The capstone project requires students to design, build, and test a prototype that satisfies a real-world customer need or qualifies for a competition sponsored by an engineering professional society. The capstone course director, a faculty member responsible for course administration and coordination among course instructors, solicits proposed projects from mechanical engineering faculty members. Once projects with associated funding are finalized, students submit a rank-ordered project preference list. The course director assigns students to projects based on their preferences and any special needs by the projects. Faculty members serve as project advisors and project committee members. Faculty advisors for many years have been the primary assessor of student performance on the capstone project. The challenge lies in assuring consistent grading across projects and recognition of individual student contributions to the project.

Most undergraduate engineering programs include a capstone design experience in their curricula. Capstone projects support meeting the requirements of the ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) Criterion 3, Program Outcomes1. Evaluation techniques for these projects vary among universities. Many programs require an oral presentation and a

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