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The Role Of The Faculty Advisor In The Capstone Design Experience: The Importance Of Technical Expertise

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Capstone Design

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1161.1 - 8.1161.7



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Paper Authors

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Brian Thompson

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Craig Gunn

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Craig Somerton

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

Session 2425

The Role of the Faculty Advisor in the Capstone Design Experience: The Importance of Technical Expertise

Craig W. Somerton, Brian S. Thompson, and Craig Gunn Department of Mechanical Engineering, Michigan State University

Introduction The capstone design experience in the mechanical engineering program at Michigan State University is achieved through the Mechanical Engineering Design Projects course: ME 481. This course utilizes industrially sponsored design projects for which the company makes both a financial investment ($3500) and a personnel investment (a staff engineer is assigned to the project.) Each team of four students works on the project for the semester under the supervision of a faculty member. About 160 students enroll in the course each year, requiring the acquisition of nearly forty design projects by the course coordinator. In an academic year about thirteen faculty are assigned to supervise these projects. The course coordinator is responsible for the specific assignment of a faculty advisor to a design project. Among the faculty, there has been considerable discussion concerning how the faculty advisors should be assigned to project teams and what role their technical area of expertise should play in this assignment. This role is the focus of the paper. This paper continues with a discussion on the bearing that faculty advisor technical expertise has on the design project. The results of a student survey and industrial sponsor survey on this issue are then presented and discussed. Final remarks conclude the paper.

Comments on the Faculty Advisor’s Technical Expertise for Design Project Teams It would seem obvious that faculty should be assigned design projects in their technical area of expertise. Indeed most faculty at research universities feel very uncomfortable when asked to work outside their narrow technical area of expertise. The difficulty in making the assignments in this fashion lies in the eclectic nature the design projects and the composition of the faculty. As a typical mechanical engineering faculty, our department is composed of fifty percent of members whose expertise is in the mechanical systems area and fifty percent of members whose expertise is in the thermal/fluids science area. Because the projects are solicited from industry, and the decision as to what projects to use is dictated by an assessment as to the most positive learning experience for the students, there is rarely an exact balance between the technical areas of the projects for the semester and those of the faculty members assigned to be advisors for the semester. So it is a normal occurrence that some faculty advisors are assigned design projects that are outside their technical area of expertise because all faculty in the department are supposed to participate in this class during a two-year period.

What should be done under these circumstances? In our department, the faculty has agreed that the capstone design course is the responsibility of all faculty members and that all faculty members should be available to provide assistance to the student design teams. It is also understood that the role of the faculty advisor is not to be the technical expert on the project but rather to guide Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Thompson, B., & Gunn, C., & Somerton, C. (2003, June), The Role Of The Faculty Advisor In The Capstone Design Experience: The Importance Of Technical Expertise Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11966

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