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First Year And Capstone Design Projects: Is The Bookend Curriculum Approach Effective For Skill Gain?

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Capstone Design Pedagogy I

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.586.1 - 15.586.13



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Paper Authors


Daria Kotys-Schwartz University of Colorado, Boulder

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DARIA KOTYS-SCHWARTZ is the Faculty Director for the Mesa State College-University of Colorado Mechanical Engineering Partnership Program and an Instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. She received BS and MS degrees in Mechanical Engineering from The Ohio State University and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Dr. Kotys-Schwartz has focused her research in engineering student learning, retention and diversity. She is currently investigating teenage girls’ participation in engineering and technology activities from multiple disciplinary frames, the impact of four-year hands-on design curriculum, and the effects of service learning in engineering education.

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Daniel Knight University of Colorado, Boulder

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DANIEL W. KNIGHT is the engineering assessment specialist at the Integrated Teaching and
Learning Laboratory (ITLL) and Program. He holds a BA in psychology from Louisiana State
University, and an MS degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a PhD degree in counseling psychology, both from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Knight’s research interests are in the areas of retention, program evaluation and teamwork practices in engineering education. His current responsibilities include the assessment and evaluation of the ITL Program’s hands-on undergraduate courses and K-12 engineering initiatives.

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Gary Pawlas University of Colorado, Boulder

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

First-Year and Capstone Design Projects: Is the Bookend Curriculum Approach Effective for Skill Gain?


Universities and colleges across the country are being challenged to graduate undergraduate engineering students who are technically and professionally proficient. Project-based curriculum reforms have been instituted within several engineering programs in an effort to address this demand. The pedagogical philosophy implemented by several institutions positions project-based courses at the beginning and end of the undergraduate engineering curriculum—creating a bookend curriculum with First-Year Engineering Projects courses and Senior Capstone Design courses. First-Year Engineering Projects courses provide students with hands-on engineering opportunities and introduce students to professional components of an engineering career. Senior Capstone courses also incorporate technical knowledge and real-world problem solving, with an emphasis on professional skills. Yet, an unanswered question remains: is student confidence in professional and technical engineering skills gained and retained when problem-based learning classes are only utilized in the freshman and senior-year year?

This research project longitudinally investigates the technical and professional skill development of mechanical engineering students at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where a bookend project-based curriculum is employed. The paper provides an overview of the First-Year Engineering Projects and the mechanical engineering Senior Capstone Design project course used for this study. Technical and professional skill objectives are also discussed within the paper. Pre and post skill surveys were used to assess First-Year Engineering Projects and the Senior Capstone Design classes. Results from two cohorts—followed longitudinally—indicate that student confidence in skills deteriorates between the end of the first-year and beginning of the senior year in five categories: Engineering as a Career, Engineering Methods, Design, Communication and Teamwork.


At the University of Colorado at Boulder, all mechanical engineering (ME) undergraduates are required to take First-Year Engineering Projects (FYEP) and Senior Capstone Design (SCD) as part of their core curriculum. Both of these courses are project-centered, having a strong technical and professional component. The FYEP course is a single semester hands-on, team- based interdisciplinary design course for entry-level engineering students. Several faculty members from the College of Engineering and Applied Science teach the FYEP course. SCD is a yearlong industry sponsored, hands-on, design course for senior-level mechanical engineering students. The professional skills objectives for both courses include increasing: knowledge of engineering as a career, communication skills and teamwork skills. The technical skill learning objectives emphasize fundamental engineering methodologies and design skills.

Project-based courses are not currently incorporated into the sophomore or junior-level coursework at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Though a project may be supplementary to a course in the sophomore or junior year, the authors do not identify these courses as project- based since the learning is not organized around the project.

Kotys-Schwartz, D., & Knight, D., & Pawlas, G. (2010, June), First Year And Capstone Design Projects: Is The Bookend Curriculum Approach Effective For Skill Gain? Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16995

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: © 2010 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