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Modifications to a Senior Capstone Program to Improve Project Management and Design-Cycle Pedagogies and Enhance Student Learning

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

DEED Postcard Session 2 and Presentation of Student Essay Competition Winners

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Cory Mettler South Dakota State University

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Cory Mettler has been an Electrical Engineering instructor at South Dakota State University since 2005. During much of that time, he was employed in industry and was acting as an adjunct for the University. He developed and managed a microelectronics division for an R&D firm who specialized in Nondestructive Testing analysis. He also was employed as the Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for a consulting firm who specialized in time-domain simulations of distributed generation renewable energy facilities. Today, he leverages his experience managing projects in industry to develop an extremely realistic senior capstone program at SDSU. Cory has also developed or implemented numerous active and experiential learning opportunities in a number of 200- and 300-level electrical engineering courses.

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Robert Fourney South Dakota State University

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Bob Fourney is an Associate Professor at South Dakota State University, where he has been teaching since 2003. He teaches the digital design and embedded systems portion of the Electrical Engineering curriculum and serves as both a formal and informal advisor for the microcontroller and computer aspects of many senior design projects. He helped to design a two-course freshman experience to complement the improvements in the capstone Senior Design sequence and is preparing to revise the freshman sequence in response to recent curriculum changes.

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Improvements have been made to an Electrical Engineering Senior Capstone sequence. Improvements include the addition of a supporting course, development of department guidelines to formalize project acceptance, new industry and academic partnerships, and significant modifications to course content. This effort began three design cycles ago and continue to produce successful results.

An Engineering Economics course was unpopular with both students and faculty because it lacked significant substance and was often taught in such a way that students had difficulty relating the material to industry assignments after graduation. Therefore, this course was modified to become a supporting course for the Senior Capstone and now contains both engineering economics and project management material. Learning Objectives in the first half of the course focus on project management material which directly relates to the students’ Capstone projects. The topics added to the course include selected items from the Initiating, Planning, Monitoring, Executing, and Closing Process Groups, with the primary focus on the Planning Processes and very minimal focus on the Closing Processes. The second half of the semester is dedicated to the same Economics topics covered in the original course, but are covered in a much more concise way.

Guidelines for project acceptance criteria were formalized. Among other things, it was determined that more emphasis was need on developing industry-sponsored and multidiscipline projects. In order to increase the availability of true multidiscipline projects, a formal agreement was formed with the Mechanical Engineering Senior Capstone program to create official multidiscipline teams in which both groups of students now report to a single faculty member. Many new partnerships were also developed with industry to increase the penetration of sponsored projects. These projects all are required to have clearly specified requirements at the onset of the project, which makes the assessment of the project management techniques easier to assess.

The original Senior Capstone program was mostly successful, but students did often complain about the workload at specific times throughout the sequence and not all projects were completed on time. Through a more rigorous implementation of project management techniques taught in the supporting course, use of project resources have been more evenly distributed throughout the sequence reducing the student complaint of being overworked. Projects now finish a three weeks earlier allowing time to expose students to an introductory level of system testing and product verification.

Results of these modifications have been quite positive. Students gain a more formal understanding of project management while being exposed to more realistic projects. While the overall workload has actually increased, that load has been distributed more evenly throughout the sequence and is more positively accepted. Project success rate has been nearly 100% since the changes were implemented. Additionally, the increase of true multidiscipline projects was favorably noted during a recent accreditation and the increase of industry-sponsored projects have resulted in a number of excellent recruiting opportunities.

Mettler, C., & Fourney, R. (2017, June), Modifications to a Senior Capstone Program to Improve Project Management and Design-Cycle Pedagogies and Enhance Student Learning Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28681

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