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Capstone Design, Mechanical Engineering Project Or Personnel Management Challenge?

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Capstone Design II

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.306.1 - 11.306.10



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Paper Authors


Richard Goff Virginia Tech

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Richard Goff is an Associate Professor and Assistant Department Head of the Department of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. He is also the Director of the Frith Freshman Engineering Design Laboratory and the Faculty Advisor of the VT Mini-Baja Team. He is actively involved in bringing joy and adventure to the educational process and is the recipient of numerous University teaching awards.

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Janis Terpenny Virginia Tech

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Janis Terpenny is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Education with affiliated positions in Mechanical Engineering and Industrial & Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. She is co-Director of the NSF multi-university Center for e-Design. Her research interests focus on conceptual design of engineered products and systems. She is currently a member of ASEE (past chair of the Engineering Economy Division), ASME, IIE, SWE, and Alpha Pi Mu. She is the Design Economics area editor for The Engineering Economist journal.

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

Capstone Design, Mechanical Engineering Project or Personnel Management Challenge?


There are approximately 275 mechanical engineering seniors at Virginia Tech who participate in one of several possible capstone design projects. The SAE Mini Baja is one of these projects and is extremely popular among students. The object of this paper is to communicate and illuminate the broad spectrum of issues encountered in a team based capstone design project.

In fall 2004, I became the faculty advisor of the Virginia Tech SAE Mini Baja team which is also one of the ME 4015 Mechanical Engineering senior capstone design projects. At first, I thought that the project would be mostly a mechanical engineering project and wondered, as an aerospace engineer, whether I was up to the task. However, as time went on, I discovered that the real challenge was not of mechanical engineering expertise, but one of team guidance and management.

This paper describes the SAE Mini Baja design competition as a mechanical engineering capstone design project and the many challenges that face the advisor and a thirty-five member team charged with designing, building, testing two vehicles as well as competing in three of the SAE Mini Baja events around the country. The vehicles are constructed in the Joseph F. Ware, Jr. Advanced Engineering Laboratory which is a model for collaborative design-build spaces. The paper also illuminates some of the tools and methods that are used to facilitate the success of the team as well as discusses some of the difficulties of working with such a large design team. Design and team assessment instruments are presented. Suggestions aimed at successful future teams and projects are also discussed.


Design has been described as the epitome of the goal of engineering1, as it is core to facilitating the creation of new products, processes, software, systems, and organizations through which engineering contributes to society by satisfying its needs and aspirations. Though formal definitions of engineering design vary somewhat, it is commonly agreed that design is a process, a means to an end, that is scientifically based, creative, and most often noble in its purpose as contributions are sought which satisfy human and/or societal needs. Whether the outcome of the process is a system, product, or process, engineering design serves to translate need into concepts which are realizable. Implicitly and often understated, engineering design is also responsible; responsible for the impacts, positive and negative, on the world it serves. Engineering design is responsible for major contributions which have defined our modern world: transportation, medicine, utilities, communication, and agriculture, among many others. Yet, the inceptions of engineering design are also directly responsible for failures which are capable of causing death and destruction: collapsing bridges, chemical leaks, electrical fires, nuclear power accidents, and automobile accidents. Further, and with much attention in recent years,

Goff, R., & Terpenny, J. (2006, June), Capstone Design, Mechanical Engineering Project Or Personnel Management Challenge? Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--964

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