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Work in Progress: Implementing a Tiger Team in a Capstone Design Course

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division (DEED) Technical Session 8

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education Division (DEED)

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Paper Authors


Alan Cheville Bucknell University

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Alan Cheville studied optoelectronics and ultrafast optics at Rice University, then spent fourteen years as a faculty member at Oklahoma State University working on terahertz frequencies and engineering education, developing resources in photonics and engineering design. After serving for two and a half years as a program director in engineering education at the National Science Foundation, served as chair in the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department and secretary of the faculty at Bucknell University. At Bucknell he helped found the Maker-E, an electronic MakerSpace for students.He is currently interested in engineering design education, engineering education policy, and the philosophy of engineering education. He has served as associate editor on several journals, an ABET PEV, and on several national-level advisory boards.

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Stewart Thomas Bucknell University

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Stewart Thomas is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He received the B.S. and M.Eng. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Louisville in Louisville, KY. and the Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He is a member of ASEE and IEEE.

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Stu Thompson Bucknell University Orcid 16x16

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Stu is an associate professor and chair of the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, PA. His teaching responsibilities typically include digital design, computer-related electives, and engineering design. His research focus is on the application of mobile computing technology to interesting problems. My broadly he is interested in the continued evolution of engineering education and how the experience can help create graduates who will go on to make substantial change in the world.

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This paper reports on the initial implementation of a two student “tiger team” in an engineering capstone design class. A tiger team is a small group of individuals that covers a range of expertise and is assigned when challenges arise that helps address the root issues causing the challenge. The term was coined in the 1960’s in the Cold War; tiger teams are used in industry, government, and military organizations. While tiger teams in these situations are usually formed around an issue then disbanded, in the capstone class the tiger team was formed for the duration of the two semester long class; details on formation and the larger context and organization of the class are discussed in the paper. The rationale for the tiger team was the observation over many years of a capstone class that as projects are functionally decomposed and subsystems assigned to individual students, a not insignificant fraction of students become “stuck” at some point in time – the concept of “stuckness” is further derived in the full paper. The result is that if delays accumulate on critical parts of the project, teams often struggle to get the project back on track and end up with a cascading series of missed deadlines. The rationale for the tiger team is to help teams identify when parts of the project are getting behind schedule and to have additional, short-term help available.

In the initial implementation described here, the tiger team was two students—one from electrical and one from computer engineering—who volunteered for the position and were confirmed in that role by the other students in the class. Initial data shows that during the problem identification phase of the project the tiger team attended team meetings, helped evaluation project milestone reviews, worked to solve individual and team issues, and regularly met with the faculty. Early in the semester the two tiger team students described their role as unclear and worried their technical exposure would be limited. Later, as the teams developed technical representations, the tiger team provided independent feedback and addressed multiple technical challenges. Finally, as teams started to build technical prototypes the tiger team role again shifted to helping individuals with specific aspects of their project’ this role continued throughout the remainder of the year-long course. This in-depth case-study of the experience of implementing a tiger team draws on observations from students, faculty, the tiger team members, and an external ethnographer. This work may help other capstone instructors who may be considering similar interventions.

Cheville, A., & Thomas, S., & Thompson, S. (2023, June), Work in Progress: Implementing a Tiger Team in a Capstone Design Course Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--44126

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