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Pragmatic Framework for Graduate-level Sustainability Capstone Projects

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Design and Implementation of Graduate Education

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

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Paper Authors


Ben D. Radhakrishnan National University

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Prof. Ben D Radhakrishnan is currently a full time Faculty in the School of Engineering, Technology and Media (SETM), National University, San Diego, California, USA. He is the Program Director/Lead Faculty for MS Sustainability Management Program. He develops and teaches Engineering and Sustainability Management graduate level courses. Ben has taught Sustainability workshops in Los Angeles (Army) and San Diego (SDGE). His special interests and research include promoting Leadership in Sustainability Practices, energy management of Data Centers and to establish Sustainable strategies for enterprises. He is an Affiliate Researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, focusing on the energy efficiency of IT Equipment in a Data Centers.
As a means of promoting student-centric learning, Prof. Radhakrishnan has successfully introduced games in to his sustainability classes where students demonstrate the 3s of sustainability, namely, Environment, Economics and Equity, through games. Students learn about conservation (energy, water, waste, equity, etc.) through games and quantifying the results. He has published papers on this subject and presented them in conferences.
Before his teaching career, he had a very successful corporate management career working in R&D at Lucent Technologies and as the Director of Global Technology Management at Qualcomm. He had initiated and managed software development for both the companies in India.
Prof. Radhakrishnan holds Masters Degrees (M.Tech, M.S., M.B.A) and Sustainable Business Practices certification from University of California San Diego.

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Establishing a capstone project methodology for a graduate-level program is always challenging. It is more so when the program is new and in a non-traditional subject area, namely, Sustainability Management. Study of sustainable development and its management is relative a new subject area at the graduate level. The program objective is to train future leaders of corporations, government agencies, non-profits etc., who will strive to demonstrate a balance among the three elements of sustainability, namely, Environment, Economics and Equity/Social Justice (generally referred to as 3 Es). Implementation of sustainability projects bring in elements of management and engineering. Sustainability Management graduate level capstone projects bring to fruition all the knowledge and skills from the coursework. The project is key to students’ academic success and for the future leaders’ implementation of sustainability principles in their real-world workplace. Students in this program come from a variety of educational background – science, engineering, management, economics, liberal arts, etc. The methodology for the capstone projects is not the only key to the success of their projects but should be broad enough to reflect real-world practical implementation process. This paper will demonstrate a pragmatic capstone methodology and tools developed for the program that focuses on both technical and management aspects of sustainability. It includes graduate research attributes such as sustainability modelling, project and implementation process flow, etc. In addition, management attributes with tools such as sustainable SWOT and risk analyses, Best Management Practices, etc., are also part of the methodology. Engineering calculations for emissions, water conservation, energy savings, etc., are also done depending on the nature of the project. The ultimate goal of the capstone project is to help demonstrate the viability of the three sustainability principles (3 Es) and to quantify the results. Projects are executed in teams and are evaluated with rubrics for technical content, implementation analysis and writing quality. Majority of the projects are industry-sponsored projects. This gives the students the real world experience by solving real-world problems. The capstone is executed in two phases. In the first phase, a team’s output is a project proposal document with clear problem definition, objectives, some initial research and literature survey, identifying issues and risks (high level), stakeholders and tools to quantify the results. Project implementation is the second phase of the capstone with a completed project document/report and a formal presentation to the stakeholders (school and sponsors). During the first phase of the project, a sponsor letter is obtained from a company executive. This paper will present the full methodology with examples of successfully completed capstone projects with metrics. Students’ feedback will also be discussed along with further potential enhancements to the methodology.

Radhakrishnan, B. D. (2018, June), Pragmatic Framework for Graduate-level Sustainability Capstone Projects Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30879

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