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Veterans' Contributions to Enhancing the Capstone Learning Experience of Engineering Cohorts

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Developing an Academic Framework Supportive of our Military Veterans

Tagged Division

Military and Veterans Constituent Committee

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


David Blake Stringer Kent State University, Kent Orcid 16x16

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D. Blake Stringer, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of aeronautics at Kent State University. Prior to joining the faculty at Kent State, Dr. Stringer served in the Army for 20 years as an army aviator, West Point faculty member, and research engineer. He holds a bachelors degree in aerospace engineering from the US Military Academy, a masters degree in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech, and a doctorate in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Virginia. Prior to his retirement, he led the Army Research Laboratory’s vehicle propulsion division, conducting basic and applied research of engine and drive system technologies. His research interests are varied and include unmanned aerial systems, the aerodynamics of vertical axis wind turbines, rotating mechanical components, rotordynamics, and engineering education pedagogy. As an aviator, he has been rated in both rotary and fixed-wing platforms. He also holds a FAA commercial airman’s certificate.

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Maureen McFarland Kent State University, Kent

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MAUREEN McFARLAND is currently the Aeronautics Senior Program Director and an assistant professor at Kent State University. Prior to joining the faculty at Kent State, Prof. McFarland served in the Marine Corps as a navigator at which time she transitioned to the Marine Corps Reserve, retiring after 20 years of service. She holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the US Naval Academy, a master’s degree in business from Boston University, and is a doctoral candidate in educational psychology at Kent State University. Her research interests include assessment, effective teaching practices using instructional technology, and engineering education pedagogy.

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The capstone course sequence in an engineering or engineering technology program brings together all elements of the curriculum into a comprehensive learning experience. A team of students works together, combining the topics learned during their matriculation to complete a substantial design project. In an aeronautics curriculum, the capstone often takes the form of an aircraft or spacecraft design, whereby the students develop a design concept to meet customer or stakeholder requirements. These courses can be uncomfortable for many students because of the open-ended nature of the requirement, leading to many questions such as “Are we on the right track? Do I have the right answer? Are we approaching this the right way?”

The author has extensive experience with design capstones at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. As such, the author is familiar with some of the challenges of the traditional design course structure. These include but are not limited to (1) lack of guidance for establishing and keeping a design schedule while proceeding through lecture material, (2) a lack of student comfort with the “open-endedness” of a design project, and (3) and inherent reluctance or hesitation of students to begin as soon as possible, due to their unfamiliarity with the material.

Due to their unique perspective and work/leadership experience, veterans are uniquely positioned to better enable their cohorts to overcome some of these challenges. The military education experience teaches veterans to become problem-solvers. Military experience in harsh operating conditions such as desert, mountainous, and combat environments further enhances this critical skill. These environments have also provided them with opportunities to engineer their own solutions to enhance capabilities.

This paper briefly discusses some of the skills attributed to veterans. It then provides examples of some of the prowess of veterans in the field, engineering solutions to technical problems. It then follows the course of one veteran through the aircraft design capstone course of an engineering technology program, and how this veteran’s experience enabled the group of students to achieve several “firsts” for a capstone team in the program. Based upon the input from several peers, this veteran’s experience played a significant role in the team’s success and accomplishments.

Stringer, D. B., & McFarland, M. (2016, June), Veterans' Contributions to Enhancing the Capstone Learning Experience of Engineering Cohorts Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27180

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