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Content In Capstone Design Courses: Pilot Survey Results From Faculty, Students, And Industry

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Capstone Design II

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.364.1 - 14.364.34



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Paper Authors


Susannah Howe Smith College

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Susannah Howe is the Design Clinic Director in the Picker Engineering Program at Smith College. She coordinates and teaches the capstone engineering design course and serves as co-faculty advisor for entrepreneurial activity at Smith. Her interests include capstone design pedagogy and structure, entrepreneurship education across disciplines at the undergraduate level, and applied design in K-12 education.

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Ron Lasser Tufts University

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Ron Lasser is a Professor of the Practice at Tufts University in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. He brings his industrial
experience and practical engineering knowledge to the classroom, student projects, and research. His approach is to inspire and apply critical
thinking to real-life problems, then look toward innovation and technology to provide a solution. His research interests include digital image
processing and animation, innovation, product portfolio design and dynamics, and structuring organizational ecosystems for success. He works with the Nerd Girls on renewable energy technology and design.

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Katie Su Smith College

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Katie Su is a sophomore economics major at Smith College.

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Sarah Pedicini Smith College

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Sarah Pedicini is a sophomore engineering major at Smith College.

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

Content in Capstone Design Courses: Pilot Survey Results from Faculty, Students, and Industry


Capstone design courses are a common culminating experience in engineering programs across the country. A pilot study was developed to probe the content included in capstone design courses. The study was motivated by a desire to understand not only what is taught in capstone courses, but how that content is covered, how well students think they have learned the content, what content proficiency is expected of entry level employees, and how important the content is for student learning from the perspective of faculty, students, and industry employers. The study consisted of three surveys (one for each of faculty, students, and industry) about a specific set of 24 capstone course topics. Responses were received from 48 faculty, 240 students, and 19 industry employees, representing five engineering disciplines. As a first look at a large set of results, this paper addresses the importance of the topics from the perspective of all three groups (faculty, students, industry) and presents data regarding what content faculty cover, methods of content delivery, reported student proficiency, and industry expectations for entry level employees. While the pilot study data are vast and multi-faceted, two emerging themes from all three surveys are a) the importance of professional skills for student learning and development and b) the disconnect between perceived and expected proficiency for capstone graduates. This effort adds to a growing body of work to understand and ultimately improve capstone education.

1. Introduction and Motivation

Capstone engineering design course program instantiations are based upon academic institution, department, and instructor. Each brings a unique perspective to the course and the learning environment. Capstone engineering design projects are each unique in their own right since individuals or teams may select a project that has never been done before. In this context of variations of uniqueness, if that can be used as a means to define an educational environment, is it possible to evaluate a capstone engineering design program, identify a benchmark, and recommend areas for improvement? The work presented in this paper is a first step in a longer process to answer this question.

The research discussed below builds on the premise that an academic institution is preparing its engineering students for a level of proficiency in their discipline. Upon graduation, these educated engineers are attractive to industry as entry-level employees. (Note, this work is specifically focused on the industrial career path.) The best measurement for proficiency is to validate industry’s expectations of an entry-level engineer against the product that academia has produced. Within that context, the focus of this research is on the design, project, and professional attributes associated with capstone engineering courses.

The long-term motivation for this research is to identify and develop pedagogical methods to improve the proficiency of engineering students completing a capstone engineering design program, specifically, to make them more innovative, entrepreneurial, and able to meet the needs of their future careers. Additionally, the essential objective is to determine the best practices

Howe, S., & Lasser, R., & Su, K., & Pedicini, S. (2009, June), Content In Capstone Design Courses: Pilot Survey Results From Faculty, Students, And Industry Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5239

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015