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Capstone Design - Unexpected Challenges and Opportunities due to the Covid-19 Pandemic

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Capstone Design

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Nathan M. Kathir P.E. George Mason University

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Dr. Nathan M. Kathir, P.E., F.ASCE is a civil/structural engineer with over 35 years of experience in government and private industry. He earned his Ph.D. in civil/structural engineering from Texas A&M University (1991). Dr. Kathir is a licensed professional engineer (PE) in the State of Colorado and a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers. After leaving the federal government with more than 30 years of civilian service, he is currently an associate professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering, George Mason University (Mason) in Fairfax, VA.

He has been an engineering program evaluator for ABET since 2000 and currently serves as a commissioner of ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission. His areas of expertise include Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP), vulnerability assessments, probabilistic risk evaluation and risk management, security engineering, blast modelling and mitigation of effects, facilities engineering, and facilities management. In addition to teaching a number of engineering courses at Mason, Dr. Kathir’s primary duties are directing the capstone program and teaching the senior design course. He advises students on creative ways to solve real-world engineering problems and ensures students get experience in planning, design, research, manufacturing and project management before they graduate. Dr. Kathir is a member of ASCE’s Committee on Accreditation.

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Erik Knudsen George Mason University

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Due to the pandemic, the authors’ institution suddenly switched to online delivery of all courses starting after the March 2020 spring break. As the director and instructor of senior projects for the mechanical engineering program, we had to immediately devise a plan on how to continue to deliver a meaningful design experience to students online in the middle of the semester. As many of the engineering professors can attest, teaching laboratory intensive classes and design courses add additional layers of complexity under the online delivery mode. Our first efforts were to use our extensive engineering experience to challenge the senior students in analytical and virtual ways and at the same time enrich their learning experience while the university did not allow anyone to access the machine shop for any work related to projects. We also faced the unexpected challenge of how to continue the capstone program and meet the expectations of the industry sponsors who provided resources to all project teams. Making use of our vast project and program management experiences, and with the assistance and approval of the department leadership, we adjusted the course learning outcomes to suit the “unforeseen design conditions” of the capstone projects and provided a real-life learning experience in project management to 59 senior students. Via extensive planning and adjustments to how course content was delivered, we successfully completed the two-semester long capstone program with a culminating, virtual capstone day in May 2020 which help ensure that the students graduate on time under the “new normal” conditions. This paper will provide details on how the capstone program adjusted to co-exist with COVID while enriching the learning experience of senior mechanical students. We will share our experiences from last spring, create a stimulating dialogue, and discuss how we are continuing to adjust and manage the capstone program for the current academic year, under more uncertainties. We will have more data to share and discuss during the conference.

Kathir, N. M., & Knudsen, E. (2021, July), Capstone Design - Unexpected Challenges and Opportunities due to the Covid-19 Pandemic Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36780

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