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International Humanitarian Capstone Design Project Option: a Model for Success

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2017 ASEE International Forum


Columbus , Ohio

Publication Date

June 28, 2017

Start Date

June 28, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Concurrent Paper Tracks Session II - Courses II

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Main Forum (Podium Presentation)

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Paper Authors


Kevin Kochersberger Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Dr. Kochersberger has been an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech since 2011, teaching and leading new developments in the ME capstone senior design course as well as advising graduate student research in unmanned systems. He introduced an industry-sponsored model for capstone design with a favorable IP policy, established a student machine shop and introduced global humanitarian design projects as an option for students. Prior to Virginia Tech he was an Associate Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and developed a multidisciplinary design course that included students from Business, Arts and Sciences as well as Engineering.

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Ashley R Taylor Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Ashley Taylor is a doctoral student in engineering education at Virginia Polytechnic and State University, where she also serves as a program assistant for the Center for Enhancement of Engineering Diversity and an advisor for international senior design projects in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Ashley received her MS in Mechanical Engineering, MPH in Public Health Education, and BS in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech. Her research interests include broadening participation in engineering, the integration of engineering education and international development, and building capacity in low and middle income countries through inclusive technical education.

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Christopher Kappes Virginia Tech

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Virginia Tech has seen unprecedented growth in enrollment in the Mechanical Engineering program since 2011, with the senior class growing from 270 students in 2011 to 418 for the 2016-2017 academic year. The capstone design class traditionally relied on faculty advisors to sponsor projects, but that capacity was exceeded with the increased enrollment and so two additional project options were created: an industry-sponsored option and a global humanitarian project option. Since 2013, 101 students have participated in the global humanitarian option, working on 16 projects in four countries. This paper discusses the class structure and how these international projects have been managed with in-country partners to allow students to travel and demonstrate prototype concepts with targeted end-users.

The projects have covered a range of topics of interest in the developing world, including medical devices, water and sanitation and agriculture. In all cases, partnerships were established with subject matter experts on campus who had prior experience in the target countries. This facilitated contacts and allowed students to start working with international partners on the first day of class.

In order to deliver a successful, operating design, three main topic areas are addressed with the student teams: design intent, adoption/social acceptance and local manufacturing / customer support. The design intent usually implies a “simple but elegant” system with minimal moving parts that have intuitive function. Social acceptance of a designed system cannot be definitively quantified, however through focus group meetings and feedback from prototype demonstrations it is possible to learn how a designed system integrates into a community of users. Finally, designs that can be locally manufactured, maintained and supported serve many positive purposes such as minimizing the “valley of death,” which commonly ends new technology development at the product introduction.

Results of three exemplary projects are given: a grass chopping system to make silage in Senegal, an I.V. drip regulation system for pediatric care in Malawi, and a latrine pit desludging system also designed for use in Malawi. In each case, the projects are described from initial design concept to demonstration in-country with corrections noted as the course evolved over a four-year period.

A funding model for international travel for students is addressed. Unlike study abroad programs which place the burden of travel expenses on the student, Virginia Tech has been successful in providing funding for one or two students from each project team to make an international trip for prototype demonstration. This funding model relies on a combination of corporate sponsorship, university support and grant funding. An assessment of learning outcomes for the students is provided along with an assessment of product success/failure.

Kochersberger, K., & Taylor, A. R., & Kappes, C. (2017, June), International Humanitarian Capstone Design Project Option: a Model for Success Paper presented at 2017 ASEE International Forum, Columbus , Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29288

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