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The Write Background Makes a Difference: What Research and Writing Skills can Predict about Capstone Project Success

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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


Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Kris Jaeger-Helton Northeastern University

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Professor Beverly Kris Jaeger-Helton, Ph.D. is on the full-time faculty in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University (NU) teaching Simulation Modeling and Analysis, Human-Machine Systems, and Facilities Planning. She is Director of the Galante Engineering Business Program as well as Coordinator of Senior Capstone Design in Industrial Engineering at NU. Dr. Jaeger-Helton has also been an active member of Northeastern’s Gateway Team, a select group of teaching faculty expressly devoted to the first-year Engineering Program at NU. In addition, she serves as a Faculty Advisor for Senior Capstone Design and graduate-level Challenge Projects in Northeastern’s Gordon Engineering Leadership Program. Dr. Jaeger-Helton has been the recipient of over 15 awards in engineering education for both teaching and mentoring and has been involved in several engineering educational research initiatives through ASEE and beyond.

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Bridget M. Smyser Northeastern University

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Dr. Smyser is an Associate Teaching Professor and the Lab Director of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.

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Capstone design is an excellent opportunity for students to practice high-level research skills such as formulating scientific argument, conducting literature reviews, interpreting high-quality sources as well as writing abstracts, executive summaries, and advanced reports. Students start with varying levels of proficiency in these skill domains, and progress at different rates towards mastery. The Senior Capstone Design program at Unnamed University combines both Industrial and Mechanical engineering students, and their unique major-specific backgrounds provide an opportunity to observe the difference in the way these two disciplines approach research tasks. Seven years of data of writing and project grades on 255 teams in the Capstone Design course were studied in detail to identify differences in the ability of students to master high-level research and writing skills within each major. Correlations were also sought between these competencies and final project quality to determine whether advanced research and documentation skills translate into commensurate designs. The answer is dependent upon which factors are considered. Both disciplines showed improvement in abstract writing over the course of Capstone, with 75% of all teams having acceptable abstracts by the third of four reports, as measured by a standard scoring rubric. Only 30% of all teams were initially able to produce acceptable literature reviews. However, mechanical engineering teams started at a higher level of proficiency in their ability to choose and apply quality references and produce acceptable literature reviews, while the industrial engineering teams were initially more proficient at organizing ideas and applying project management tools. Initial results indicate that the ability to perform quality literature reviews early in the capstone process is more positively correlated with later project success than early evidence of organization. While the project management and organizational abilities of the Industrial Engineering students serve them well in conveying their initial project plan in early Capstone, there is evidence that this propensity toward an early structure is associated with some reluctance to adjust and –in some cases– resistance to research in new directions. While administrative prowess is commendable, any associated inflexibility is unproductive when projects require adjustment and call for new research directions. This work will evaluate patterns that have emerged in each major in terms of strengths and roadblocks related to high-level research and writing skills. Recommendations will be made to reinforce the productive patterns inherent to each major and shore up areas that can benefit from guidance and feedback in the areas of research, organization, project management, and writing.

Jaeger-Helton, K., & Smyser, B. M. (2018, June), The Write Background Makes a Difference: What Research and Writing Skills can Predict about Capstone Project Success Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31137

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