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Capstone Prepares Engineers for the Real World, Right? ABET Outcomes and Student Perceptions

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division: Capstone Design Practices

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Kris Jaeger-Helton Northeastern University

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Professor Beverly Kris Jaeger-Helton, Ph.D. is on the full-time faculty in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University (NU) teaching Simulation Modeling and Analysis, Human-Machine Systems, and Facilities Planning. She is the Director of the Galante Engineering Business Program as well as Coordinator of Senior Capstone Design in Industrial Engineering at NU. Dr. Jaeger-Helton has also been an active member of Northeastern’s Gateway Team, a select group of teaching faculty expressly devoted to the first-year Engineering Program at NU. In addition, she serves as a Faculty Advisor for Senior Capstone Design and graduate-level Challenge Projects in Northeastern’s Gordon Engineering Leadership Program. Dr. Jaeger-Helton has been the recipient of over 15 awards in engineering education for both teaching and mentoring and has been involved in several engineering educational research initiatives through ASEE and beyond.

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Bridget M. Smyser Northeastern University

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Dr. Smyser is an Associate Teaching Professor and the Lab Director of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. Her research interests include Capstone Design and Lab Pedagogy.

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Hugh L. McManus Northeastern University Orcid 16x16

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Hugh McManus is an Associate Teaching Professor at Northeastern University. He uses active and simulation-based learning techniques to teach complex and context-dependent subjects such as process improvement, and co-supervises the Industrial Engineering senior capstone projects. He also develops, teaches and applies advanced methods in lean process improvement, systems engineering and preliminary design, and composite materials and structures. His current interest is understanding how continuous improvement methods can be applied to a wide variety of problems, including healthcare, business agility, and engineering education.

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Capstone design is expected to tie together several components of a student’s engineering degree program, provide valuable skills for the student’s transition to real-world employment, and in the process satisfy a large number of the program’s ABET requirements. Typical capstone course objectives reflect this ambitious set of requirements, and student outcomes can be aligned with these objectives. This work addresses the links among course objectives, what students think they learned in capstone, and the competencies reflected in their final work. This analysis contributes to the assessment of how capstone prepares students for their careers. The objectives of Unnamed University’s Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (IE) Capstone Design course map strongly to the new ABET student outcomes. The students’ progress in meeting those objectives was evaluated from multiple perspectives. Faculty advisor evaluations assessed technical problem-solving success, a validated tool judged the completeness of the prototype solution and validation testing, and a systematic examination of capstone teams’ final reports evaluated application and synthesis of knowledge obtained earlier in the curriculum. Additionally, students were asked individually to reflect on and outline the skills and competencies they learned as well as the characteristics they discovered about themselves during their capstone experience. Twenty capstone teams of 4-5 students from the Spring 2018 semester were surveyed. Prototype/project completeness scores indicated that 80% of the teams demonstrated a high ability to solve engineering problems and create design solutions. The assessment of skills from earlier in the curriculum showed that teams typically applied from 17-52% of learning objectives of their previous core courses. The student reflections showed an interesting disconnect: When asked what they learned in through the capstone experience, open-response answers focused on specific technical skills, along with project management; when asked what they learned about themselves, they mentioned communication, teamwork, and personal development skills such as time management, perseverance, and tolerance for ambiguity. Students rarely, if ever, mentioned problem solving, design, experimentation, or typical IE skills as things they learned or developed during the capstone. This study demonstrates a number of ways that student success in meeting course and ABET objectives can be measured. It also illustrates gaps in the measurement of student achievement, and a notable disconnect between the students’ perceptions of what they learned and the desired learning outcomes. Finally, evidence suggests that students do recognize having gained competencies and characteristics that will translate to real-world success.

Jaeger-Helton, K., & Smyser, B. M., & McManus, H. L. (2019, June), Capstone Prepares Engineers for the Real World, Right? ABET Outcomes and Student Perceptions Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32496

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