June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
Design in Engineering Education
22.281.1 - 22.281.18
Best Practices for Faculty Mentorship of Capstone Design ProjectsAs with many engineering programs, mechanical and mechatronic engineering students at (nameof institution) conclude their degree programs with a two-semester capstone design experience.The intent is for students to utilize competencies developed in the first three years of thecurriculum in the solution of a real-world design problem.The design projects are accomplished by student groups, as the ability to work in teams is one ofthe measured outcomes of the course. Projects are typically sponsored by industrial partners,providing a real-world design experience for the students. Each project team is assigned afaculty advisor, or mentor, for the duration of the project.As a part of standard assessment activities, the department administers exit surveys to allgraduating seniors. For many years prior to the 2008-2009 academic year, these surveys, alongwith substantial anecdotal evidence, repeatedly identified advisement of senior projects as aproblem area in the curriculum. Numerous issues were identified in the surveys, clearlyillustrating the need for improvement in this area.During that time, faculty mentorship of capstone design projects was at best uneven and at worstseverely lacking. Many advisors took the approach that they were only there to assist thestudents on an as-needed basis. A common attitude conveyed to the students was “come by ifyou need anything.” Assistance was generally restricted to technical aspects of the projectwithin the expertise areas of the individual faculty members. Other advisors did take a moreactive role in the projects, with regularly scheduled meetings, required progress reports, andother supervisory activities, but this would be considered the exception rather than the norm.In response, the department began a year-long review of advising practices for capstone designprojects. Numerous issues were discussed, including responsibility for overall project success,frequency of team meetings, approval of interim milestones, input for student grades, etc.Student feedback and other anecdotal evidence had suggested that certain advisors were moresuccessful than others, and the best practices of the successful advisors were sought during thisprocess. The result of this work is a collection of best practices for faculty mentorship ofcapstone design projects.These best practices were implemented as part of a new paradigm of faculty mentorship ofcapstone design projects during the 2008-2009 academic year. With two years of the programnow complete, its effectiveness can be assessed by comparing the two most recent sets of seniorexit survey against the earlier data. This paper details the best practices for faculty mentorship ofcapstone design projects and evaluates the success of the new paradigm through analysis ofsenior exit survey data.
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