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Bridging the Gap: Teamwork and Leadership in Engineering Capstone Courses

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2019 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


California State University, Los Angeles , California

Publication Date

April 4, 2019

Start Date

April 4, 2019

End Date

April 6, 2019

Conference Session

PSW Section Meeting Papers - Disregard start and end time - for online paper access only

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Pacific Southwest Section Meeting Paper Submissions

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Matthew J Haslam Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott


Mary Angela Beck Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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Angela Beck is a member of the Dept. of Humanities/Communications at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott campus. As an Associate Professor she teaches technical communications with occasional forays into applied linguistics, the philosophy of language, and ethics. She helped found and institutionalize the practice of team-teaching between her department and the College of Engineering at Embry-Riddle, and her research interests include socio-cognitive theories of expertise, methods for teaching disciplinary-specific writing strategies, and cognitive apprenticeship.

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This paper describes research into how well senior students are prepared to work collaboratively in capstone design courses and to evaluate initial efforts to provide needed instruction on teamwork and leadership. Senior capstone courses in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering (AE/ME) taught at _____________ University are two-semester sequences consisting of a Preliminary Design course and a Detail Design course in either aircraft, spacecraft, robotics, propulsion, or energy engineering design. Students enrolled in these capstone courses form teams of 5 – 14 students to create a design, usually in response to a Request for Proposal or a Requirements document; these teams then analyze, manufacture, and test their design. At the end of each semester, each team, under the direction of the design team lead (DTL), is required to give formal, public briefings to a panel of industry experts as well as to the general campus. At these briefings, the team members and DTL defend both their technical work on their design and their collaborative work as a team.

The first objective of this paper is to report the results of a semester-long study to determine whether senior students were prepared to work collaboratively in large teams over extended periods of time, to identify any gaps in preparation, and to pinpoint the sources of such gaps. To this end, the study’s methodology included documenting the team projects in all required AE and ME courses and interviewing team members and DTLs in capstone courses.

The research revealed a clear gap between what was required from teams working on projects in pre-capstone courses versus capstone courses. Because typical pre-capstone projects involve 3 – 4 students working together for only a few weeks’ duration, students reported being ill-prepared to work on a two-semester project involving 5 – 14 team members. Students also reported that they do not receive sufficient instruction on working collaboratively in any pre-capstone engineering course, and the DTLs interviewed felt they were unprepared to successfully discharge their required duties. They experienced difficulties making assignments, motivating team members, and ensuring that all team members do quality work.

The second objective of this paper is to report the initial efforts to bridge these gaps by providing capstone students with needed instruction on teamwork and leadership. This instruction includes the following:

• explaining the attitudes and behaviors team members need to develop, • providing examples of process management tools that teams can adapt for their purposes, • conducting out-of-class workshops for DTLs, • having all team members do research on effective teamwork that is shared with their team.

Preliminary evaluations as to the success of these instructional methods will be discussed and recommendations made.

Haslam, M. J., & Beck, M. A. (2019, April), Bridging the Gap: Teamwork and Leadership in Engineering Capstone Courses Paper presented at 2019 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, California State University, Los Angeles , California.

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