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Teaching Capstone Design In A Service Learning Setting

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Capstone Design III

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1348.1 - 12.1348.13



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Paper Authors


Mary Kasarda Virginia Tech

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Mary Kasarda is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. She specializes in magnetic bearing, rotor dynamic, and health monitoring research topics. She has six years of professional engineering experience and her background is in various aspects of turbomachinery engineering. She is a member of the VT Rotor Dynamics Laboratory and the VT Center for Intelligent Materials and Smart Structures. In 2003-2004, she acted as an education consultant through Virginia Tech to Sweet Briar College to help facilitate a new engineering program at this all-women liberal arts college. She received an NSF CAREER award in 1998 and the VT College of Engineering Outstanding New Assistant Professor Award in 2000.

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Brenda Brand Virginia Tech

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Dr. Brenda R. Brand is an assistant professor of Science Education at Virginia Tech.
She received her Masters and Doctorate degrees in Curriculum in Science Education from Virginia Tech. Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Dr. Brand was the science supervisor for Montgomery County Public Schools. As the science supervisor, Dr. Brand co-developed a year-long robotics program, working with the lead teacher to develop a course description and syllabus that incorporated participation for the FIRST robotics competition. Currently, Dr. Brand and Dr. Mary Kasarda, a colleague in mechanical engineering, are conducting a study on factors influencing girls' participation in robotics engineering.

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Eugene Brown Virginia Tech

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Eugene Brown is Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He is a computational fluid dynamicist with a special interest in computational nano-fluidics. His research is diverse and has ranged from the numerical simulation of fire extinction by water mist to the development of methods for predicting the performance of aircraft propulsion nozzles. For the past two years, he has been the technical advisor to the Virginia Demonstration Project, an ONR funded middle-school focused educational outreach project. His research has been published in many journals and conference proceedings. Dr. Brown is an Associate Fellow of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics. He has served the University and the profession as Virginia Tech’s Associate Provost for Program Development and as Program Manager of the Graduate Research Fellowship Program at the National Science Foundation.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Teaching Capstone Design in a Service Learning Setting Abstract

This service-learning-focused capstone design project requires students to design and build one or more educational tools (such as a testing device or a piece of hands-on educational equipment) that will help high-school teachers and mentors who are working with FIRST Robotics teams communicate to the students the essential elements of the engineering design process, while creating an environment to enhance the high-school students’ interests in technical fields. This paper will describe how senior mechanical engineering students were placed in a mentoring role in connection with the FIRST Robotics Competition while working to complete their own design-and-build project related to this activity. The project is novel in that, unlike other design projects, the engineering students receive significant formal leadership training to facilitate their effectiveness as mentors and to aid them in their future professional lives. The project serves not only as a capstone design experience, but also as a mini-internship with a service-learning component where students experience working as both leaders and mentors.


For almost a decade, undergraduate engineering students at Virginia Tech have volunteered as mentors to TEAM 401, a group of local high-school students taking part in the annual FIRST Robotics Competition. To prepare them for these responsibilities, the second author, a faculty member in the School of Education, has offered a for-credit education course focused on developing mentoring skills in the context of problem-based learning.

This year, the authors have joined forces to offer a mechanical engineering capstone design project that encompasses the service learning and mentorship components of the earlier program and adds a new mechanical engineering capstone design-and-build feature. Specifically, our senior mechanical engineering capstone students first mentor the members of TEAM 401 through a rigorous product design and development experience based on the re-design and re-building of a robot originally constructed for a previous FIRST Robotics Competition using their knowledge of engineering tools and the engineering design process. Following the robot re-design phase, the capstone students apply the formal design process to develop and build a “facilitating educational product or device” to enhance the abilities of educators (including themselves) to 1) communicate to the high-school TEAM 401 members the nature of a properly conceived design process, 2) demonstrate one or more difficult-to-understand physical principles, and/or 3) assist the TEAM 401 students in the building or testing of their robot.

Conceptually, this design project has two separate, but connected, phases:

Phase 1. Mentoring and Robot Redesign. This comprises most of the fall semester portion of the capstone design course, ME 4105, where the capstone students learn to mentor and lead the high-school students in an authentic design process experience focused on the redesign and rebuilding of a robot used in a previous FIRST Robotics Competition. There is close (almost one-on-one) interaction with the Team 401 students as the capstone students play the dual roles of mentor and role models guiding the

Kasarda, M., & Brand, B., & Brown, E. (2007, June), Teaching Capstone Design In A Service Learning Setting Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2234

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