Asee peer logo

It’s a Context Gap, Not a Competency Gap: Understanding the Transition from Capstone Design to Industry

Download Paper |

Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count

13

Permanent URL

https://strategy.asee.org/37411

Download Count

10

Request a correction

Paper Authors

biography

Marie C. Paretti Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-2202-6928

visit author page

Marie C. Paretti is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, design education, and gender in engineering. She was awarded a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to study expert teaching in capstone design courses, and is co-PI on numerous NSF grants exploring communication, design, and identity in engineering. Drawing on theories of situated learning and identity development, her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, effective teaching practices in design education, the effects of differing design pedagogies on retention and motivation, the dynamics of cross-disciplinary collaboration in both academic and industry design environments, and gender and identity in engineering.

visit author page

biography

Julie Dyke Ford New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

visit author page

Dr. Julie Ford is Professor of Technical Communication (housed in the Mechanical Engineering department) at New Mexico Tech where she coordinates and teaches in the junior/senior design clinic as well as teaches graduate-level engineering communication courses. Her research involves engineering communication, technical communication pedagogy, and knowledge transfer. She has published and presented widely including work in the Journal of Engineering Education, the Journal of STEM Education: Innovations and Research, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, Technical Communication and Technical Communication Quarterly. Julie has a PhD in Rhetoric and Professional Communication from New Mexico State University, an MA in English with Technical Writing Emphasis from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a BA in English from Elon University.

visit author page

biography

Susannah Howe Smith College

visit author page

Susannah Howe, Ph.D. is the Design Clinic Director in the Picker Engineering Program at Smith College, where she coordinates and teaches the capstone engineering design course. Her current research focuses on innovations in engineering design education, particularly at the capstone level. She is invested in building the capstone design community; she is a leader in the biannual Capstone Design Conferences and the Capstone Design Hub initiative. She is also involved with efforts to foster design learning in middle school students and to support entrepreneurship at primarily undergraduate institutions. Her background is in civil engineering with a focus on structural materials. She holds a B.S.E. degree from Princeton, and M.Eng. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell.

visit author page

biography

Daria A. Kotys-Schwartz University of Colorado Boulder

visit author page

Daria Kotys-Schwartz is the Director of the Idea Forge—a flexible, cross-disciplinary design space at University of Colorado Boulder. She is also the Design Center Colorado Director of Undergraduate Programs and a Teaching Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She received B.S. and M.S degrees in mechanical engineering 
from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. Kotys-Schwartz has focused her research in engineering student learning, retention, and student identity development within the context of engineering design. She is currently investigating the impact of cultural norms in an engineering classroom context, performing comparative studies between engineering education and professional design practices, examining holistic approaches to student retention, and exploring informal learning in engineering education.

visit author page

biography

Robin Ott Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

visit author page

In 1995 Robin received a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech and has since gained 20 years industry experience. Early job experience included working as a design engineer for a Naval Sea Systems Command contractor where she designed a Countermeasure Washdown System for the MHC-51 Coastal Minehunter ships. She also spent time as an Application Engineer at Parametric Technology Corporation, the creators of 3D CAD software PRO-Engineer. In 1999 she joined Kollmorgen, a motion control company based in Radford, where she held multiple roles of increasing responsibility during her nine years there. While at Kollmorgen Robin worked with Shingijutsu Global Consulting experts from Japan and earned black belts in the DBS kaizen areas of Standard Work and 5S and traveled globally to qualify suppliers in Asia and Europe. Most recently Robin worked as Senior Director of Project Management for a small bio-tech company, Intrexon, located in the VT Corporate Research Center and had the opportunity to introduce manufacturing principles into a highly specialized DNA production facility. Robin joined her alma mater’s faculty in 2015, coordinating and teaching the Capstone Senior Design program in Mechanical Engineering. She has also completed her graduate certificate in Engineering Education, leading to the development of her research focus area in the student transition from capstone to work.

visit author page

Download Paper |

Abstract

This paper describes the completion of a multi-year, multi-institution study to explore students’ transitions from capstone design courses into engineering workplaces. Numerous studies and industry reports point to gaps between school and work with respect to engineering practice. Such misalignment poses a serious challenge to the professional formation of engineers within the academy. Industry-oriented capstone courses are key opportunities to bridge these gaps. These courses provide a direct connect to industry, and faculty view them as vehicles to help students synthesize prior coursework and engage in real-world projects. Yet few if any studies have examined the effectiveness of capstone courses in the context of the transition from school to work. Most research focuses on course structure, pedagogy, assessment, and end-of-course outcomes.

To address this gap, we recruited graduating seniors two years in succession from four different institutions and followed them through their first year of work. Of the 140 participants interviewed prior to graduation, 75 remained in the study for the full year. Data collection included weekly quantitative and qualitative surveys during participants’ first 12 weeks of work, followed by semi-structured interviews after approximately three, six, and twelve months of work. In addition, 15 self-identified women participated in interviews near the end of their second year of work. The study focused on four primary research questions.

RQ1: What skills, practices, and attitudes fostered through the capstone experience do individuals draw on or apply in their early work experiences? RQ2: What differences do individuals identify between their capstone design and early work experiences, and how do those differences help or hinder their school-to-work transition? RQ3: What specific pedagogical practices or aspects of the capstone course do students identify as helping or hindering their transition? RQ4: In what ways do individuals perceive themselves to be underprepared in their early work experiences?

All data from the project have been coded to address the research questions. In this paper, we summarize the answers to these questions, drawing on published journal articles as well as manuscripts in the final stages of development. In short, participants identified significant transfer across four domains: teamwork and communication, self-directed learning, technical engineering work, and engineering identity. Each of these areas posed significant challenges for participants as they entered the workforce, but each also represented areas in which they were able to draw on their capstone experiences to navigate their learning. The industry-orientation of their capstone course played a key role in this transfer. At the same time, participants identified multiple contextual differences between school and work that made the transition more a process of adaptation rather than direct translation of skills and practices. Participants were able to draw on their capstone experiences to develop strategies for navigating their new work contexts.

Paretti, M. C., & Ford, J. D., & Howe, S., & Kotys-Schwartz, D. A., & Ott, R. (2021, July), It’s a Context Gap, Not a Competency Gap: Understanding the Transition from Capstone Design to Industry Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://strategy.asee.org/37411

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: © 2021 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