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Preparation of the Professional Engineer: Outcomes from 20 Years of a Multidisciplinary and Cross-sectoral Capstone Course

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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

Multidisciplinary Design II

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

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Paper Authors


Tela Favaloro University of California, Santa Cruz

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Tela Favaloro received a B.S. degree in Physics and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently working to further the development and dissemination of alternative energy technology; as a project manager and researcher with the Center for Information Technology and Research in the Interest of Society. Her background is in the development of characterization techniques and laboratory apparatus for advancement of novel electronic devices, in addition to curriculum development for inquiry-based learning and facilitation of interdisciplinary, student-led project design. She emphasizes engineering sustainable solutions from a holistic perspective, incorporating analysis of the full technological life cycle and socioeconomic impact.

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Patrick E. Mantey University of California, Santa Cruz


Stephen C. Petersen P.E. University of California, Santa Cruz

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Stephen Petersen is currently Undergraduate Director and a Teaching Professor with the Electrical Engineering Department in the School of Engineering at UCSC. Prior to teaching full time, he practiced before the FCC as an independent Consulting Engineer to the broadcast industry and as an R&D consultant to industrial clients. He has been nominated twice for the UCSC campus-wide Excellence in Teaching Award and received recognition by the School of Engineering's yearly Excellence in Teaching Award 17 times since 1998. He is a Member of IEEE and ASEE, faculty advisor to UCSC's Chapter of Tau Beta Pi and Trustee of the UCSC Amateur Radio Club's station license, callsign: W6SLG. He has taught a broad spectrum of classes in both computer and electrical engineering. He especially enjoys teaching senior level engineering design classes he wrote in the areas of RF and mixed-signal High-Speed Digital design that bring together both theory and practice.

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John F Vesecky University of California, Santa Cruz

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After education at Rice University and Stanford University in electrical engineering Prof. Vesecky taught university courses in astronomy and electrical engineering for 50 years at Leicester University (UK), Stanford, Michigan and University of California Santa Cruz. His teaching has been mainly in astrophysics, remote sensing, radar, power engineering and especially capstone design. While at Michigan he was Director of the Space Physics Research Laboratory. In research he has recently emphasized remote sensing by radar sensors from ground, aircraft and spacecraft platforms. He led a design team for multifrequency surface wave HF radar and has been most recently involved in that area of research.

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The grand challenges outlined by the National Academy of Engineers and addressed by the ABET learning outcomes reflect the changing landscape of undergraduate engineering education. Indeed, to be competitive, the next generation of engineering professionals must obtain skills and preparation beyond those in a traditional technical discipline. Accordingly, learners must principally demonstrate the ability to: understand ethics and social responsibility, develop and implement complex systems, communicate and function within multidisciplinary groups, and understand impacts of their designs in different societal and environmental contexts.

Achieving these outcomes requires a pedagogy that not only holistically broadens non-technical aspects of engineering design, but provides a conducive learning environment that is responsive to the changing professional industry landscape. At our University, we have endeavored to facilitate innovation and professional efficacy by closely tying our capstone course with current industry practice. The course begins with as a traditional lecture course in parallel with the problem-based learning format during the first 5 weeks to rapidly prepare learners for our industry-oriented approach to project management and systems-level engineering, adopted for the remaining 25 weeks. Here, we employ a hierarchical structure that emphasizes both group and individual responsibility for a (self-specified) scope of work. Capstone projects and their associated teams are approved based on how well the nascent student-team can articulate and address the client’s need; as such, many if not all projects require multidisciplinary skillsets. Thus, instruction of the capstone course follows a collaborative teaching model, one that is inherent to its success: mixed-discipline learners are co-taught by instructors hailing from respective engineering departments, selected for their broad theoretical, experimental and practical knowledge. We hope to expand in the future and bring in more representation from business, sociology, and environmental science.

This paper critically assesses a multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral engineering capstone course over the last twenty years. During this time, the course structure has evolved to support three main project tracks: corporate-sponsored projects model where clients from industry propose projects for a fee; the social entrepreneurship theme where motivated learners identify opportunities for innovation emphasizing community applications; and the academic or faculty-initiated model, which draws on ideas from on- or off-campus research. Our goal is to create an environment that fosters learner innovation by transitioning students beyond immersive and experiential learning toward actual creation of real-world value, supported by activities specifically intended to foster entrepreneurially-minded learning. By bolstering student contribution in this manner, learners move away from viewing the course simply as an academic exercise. In fact, many successful students obtain further project funding or employment as a direct result of their participation in a capstone project.

The actual realization of these outcomes necessitates significant resources and scaffolded mentorship, fine-tuned over the many years of lessons learned. In this paper, we will articulate the major challenges and revisions to the course along with the motivation behind the current course design, so that other programs may learn from our model. Program assessment will be obtained from faculty and teaching assistant observations, as well as participant feedback.

Favaloro, T., & Mantey, P. E., & Petersen, S. C., & Vesecky, J. F. (2018, June), Preparation of the Professional Engineer: Outcomes from 20 Years of a Multidisciplinary and Cross-sectoral Capstone Course Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30884

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