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Creative Problem Solving In Capstone Design

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Innovative Techniques in Graphics

Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.419.1 - 12.419.17



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Paper Authors

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Edward Lumsdaine Michigan Technological University

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

Creative Problem Solving in Capstone Design


This paper describes the 2006/07 capstone design course at Michigan Technological University, which had 121 students assigned to 24 project teams. The teams were formed based on the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) results, sponsor requirements, student GPA and special qualifications. During the first semester, the emphasis of the course was on creative problem solving, team building, and learning the 12-step design process with the associated documentation and thinking skills. During the second semester, the emphasis shifted to design for X. Other topics covered were prototyping, optimization and quality (Six Sigma, FMEA, QFD, and robust engineering) as well as new data management tools and ethics.

First semester results showed marked improvement in written and oral communication and understanding of team development and dealing with conflict or language barriers. None of the teams were found to be dysfunctional—this achievement was particularly noted by Mechanical Engineering staff involved with the design teams. Also, all project sponsors were satisfied with the progress of their teams. One team expressed the value of the new approach this way: “We would have charged ahead with our first idea, but then we were “forced” to use the creative problem solving process. We now see that our final design solution is far superior to what we would have accomplished with our initial concept and limited range of thinking modes.”

Background and Opportunity

Creative problem solving was a required freshman course in Electrical Engineering at Michigan Technological University from 1994 to 1998. Also, a creative problem solving course 1 was taught for general engineering; it was open as a technical elective to all other students. However, after 2000, when the university switched from a quarter to a semester system, a common first year was instituted for all engineering students, and creative problem solving was no longer included in the curriculum, except as a one-credit module in the Engineering Enterprise Program.

The two-semester capstone design course in the Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics Department was taught for many years by different professors. From all these years, little documentation exists in terms of successes and challenges. The professors mostly taught the course according to their individual perceptions and their preferred textbooks apart from industrial design experience. A design committee manages the course logistics, provides oversight of the projects, and acts as liaison for the interdisciplinary projects involving other engineering departments and the School of Business. The Committee influences the direction of the course. However, the members were caught in a campus culture that for years has been risk- averse and lacks a global vision for engineering education. When one of the design professors retired and the other (a key member of the design committee) went on sabbatical, an opportunity opened to fully implement a capstone design sequence that had previously been co-taught on an experimental basis2. Previous course outcomes were very uneven, ranging from award-winning teams to dysfunctional teams producing hurried, mediocre, and superficial project results.

Lumsdaine, E. (2007, June), Creative Problem Solving In Capstone Design Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--3064

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