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Mentoring Team Conflicts in Capstone Design: Problems and Solutions

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Design Teamwork

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.899.1 - 23.899.9



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Paper Authors


Marie C Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication and teamwork in engineering, design education, and engineering identity. She was awarded a CAREER grant from NSF to study expert teaching practices in capstone design courses nationwide, and is co-PI on NSF . Her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, the effects of curriculum on design cognition, 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.

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James J. Pembridge Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ., Daytona Beach

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James J. Pembridge is an Assistant Professor in the Freshman Engineering Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He earned a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, M.A. Education in Curriculum and Instruction, and Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. His research has focused on mentoring as pedagogy for project-based courses and understanding the adult learning characteristics of undergraduate students.

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Cory Brozina Virginia Tech

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Benjamin David Lutz Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16


Jintana Nina Phanthanousy Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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Nina Phanthanousy is a master's candidate at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing Mechanical Engineering. She is currently a graduate assistant for the College of Engineering where she helps professors gather data for engineering education research and helps administer ERAU's women's engineering mentoring program; FIRST (Female Initiatives: Reaching Success Together).

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Mentoring Team Conflicts in Capstone Design: Problems and SolutionsTeaming is ubiquitous in design education, yet the process of effectively mentoring project teamsposes a range of challenges for faculty. Many project mentors have little or no formal training inteamwork or in mentoring teams, and have learned primarily through experience. That experienceprovides a valuable resource to the design education community, particularly when coupled withempirical research on teamwork from fields such as organizational behavior.In this paper, we begin to address design faculty’s need for practice-oriented approaches tomentoring and managing design teams by focusing on team conflicts. We draw on interviews with42 capstone faculty from a diverse set of institutions and a range of disciplines to categorize bothcommon types of conflict that teams experience and approaches to “managing” the conflict.Importantly, the analysis of approaches explores not only how to resolve conflicts, but also how tomentor teams so that the student designers themselves gain expertise in conflict resolution. Theinterviews were collected as part of a larger study on effective design education; all interviews weretranscribed verbatim, edited to remove identifying information, and coded. Codes were developedthrough thematic analysis by members of the research team, with the literature on conflict resolutionproviding additional insights.Preliminary analysis of the interview data indicates that conflicts fall into two broad areas: designdecisions and interpersonal conflicts. Design decision conflicts arise when members of a teamcannot agree on a direction (e.g. which design solution to pursue, how to weight different criteria,what test methods to use to analyze a prototype). Interpersonal conflicts, which are in general bothmore common and more difficult to address, include workload imbalances (students who do toolittle as well as students who do too much), capability deficiencies (students who are not technicallycapable of performing up to their peers’ standards), personality clashes (students who struggle tofind common ground in their approaches to the project), and miscommunication (situations inwhich students clash because they have not been able to communicate effectively with on another).Approaches to resolving these conflicts include direct intervention with the whole team, discussionswith one or more team members to help them mediate the conflict for the team (i.e. training anindividual), and direct intervention with one or more team members to address weak performance.The paper describes both the strategies and the rationales faculty use for selecting which strategy ismost appropriate to the situation.The paper concludes by situating faculty responses in the research on team dynamics and conflictresolution. This research provides frameworks to ground current practices as well as additionalstrategies for both managing team conflicts and selecting appropriate intervention strategies.

Paretti, M. C., & Pembridge, J. J., & Brozina, C., & Lutz, B. D., & Phanthanousy, J. N. (2013, June), Mentoring Team Conflicts in Capstone Design: Problems and Solutions Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22284

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