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Herding Cats : A Case Study Of A Capstone Design Course

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Capstone Design

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.609.1 - 7.609.6

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Paper Authors

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John Paul Giolma

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Kevin Nickels

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

Main Menu Session 2425

Herding cats: a case study of a capstone design course

J. Paul Giolma and Kevin M. Nickels Department of Engineering Science Trinity University


The eight-semester design sequence in Engineering Science at Trinity University contains three mini-capstone design experiences (one mechanical, one chemical, and one electrical) and one capstone design project in the senior year. Senior design is so unlike the well-defined design projects encountered thus far in the curriculum, even the mini-capstone design projects encountered in the sophomore and junior years, that seniors were often spending months (and sometimes a whole semester) generating a well-defined set of specifications and criteria for their design. This paper describes our attempts to guide this discovery and analysis process without losing the essential skills learned.

We have divided the yearlong design process into six generic phases. Associated with the phases are written reports and oral presentations. The definitio n of and the actual content of each phase differ among the student groups, due to project choice and/or the preferences of the group advisor. By dividing the design cycle into well-defined but flexible phases, we have attempted to retain the best of the educational experience while accommodating six very different faculty members advising six very different projects, while providing some much-needed structure for the students.

Oral presentations have always been considered outstanding in this course. The structural changes have noticeably improved report writing and seem to have decreased the time spent in the initial stages of the projects. Due to this new structure, both faculty and students have the opportunity to recognize problems earlier in the design cycle, and, administering the course is a bit less like ‘herding’ cats!


Trinity University is a primarily undergraduate institution in San Antonio of approximately 2400 students. Trinity is a well-regarded liberal arts and sciences institution, and incorporates several preprofessional programs such as Business and Engineering into the university. The Engineering Science Department is a small and intellectually diverse department, with 9 faculty members (4 mechanical engineers, 2 chemical engineers, and 3 electrical engineers) and approximately 120 students. The department features a broad-based engineering curriculum devoted to a liberal and integrative engineering education in the context of the University's tradition of the liberal arts and sciences.

The Engineering Science curriculum emphasizes an in-depth understanding of the fundamentals Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition CopyrightÓ 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Giolma, J. P., & Nickels, K. (2002, June), Herding Cats : A Case Study Of A Capstone Design Course Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada.

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