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Suggested Citation:"University of Idaho." National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18184.

A Self-Renewing, Industry-Driven Capstone Design Program

Lead Institution: University of Idaho, Moscow, ID

Collaborating Institutions: Industry, government, universities

Category: Capstone/Industry Partnerships

Date Implemented: August 1991




Program Description: The interdisciplinary senior capstone design program at the University of Idaho (UI) was initially developed in the mechanical engineering department but has continued to expand to all of the engineering departments. The objectives of the UI interdisciplinary senior capstone design program are to introduce students to current “best practices” in industry for design and manufacturing, help students grow professionally by providing a focus for developing teamwork, communication, and project management skills, and increase industry/university collaboration within the context of specific product needs. Results from over 20 capstone design team projects each year are shared with the public, alumni, and industry partners at a signature university event known as the UI Design Expo. The UI commitment to this program has resulted in the construction of a 6000 ft2 design suite that includes a CNC-equipped machine shop, project assembly area, advanced CAD laboratory, 3D printer, conference/study area, design review studio, and graduate student offices. To make this program self-sustaining, a system of knowledge management was developed to manage both explicit and implicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge is transferred through the Idaho Engineering Works (IEW), where a group of graduate students is given specialized training in hardware, software, manufacturing, and leadership with the expectation that they will mentor and support undergraduate students during the senior design course. The mentored undergraduate students then become part of IEW and mentor future students. This program was started by faculty who reviewed publications about Lockheed Skunk Works and research on creativity enhancement and technical leadership, and then sought industrial guidance. This led to finding design problems from industry for students to solve. External project partners donate equipment, provide design problems, provide peer review, and collaborate in resource development. Several campus offices and colleges work together to implement the program.

Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: Capstone course outcomes fall into four areas: student learning, program operation, infrastructure development, and community development. Student learning outcomes include: (a) deep immersion in and reflection on self-directed project learning, (b) early prototyping that accelerates and improves the quality of final designs, (c) formal communication (oral and written) that allows clients to easily integrate design project results, and (d) a cadre of graduate student mentors with exceptional technical leadership skills. Program operation outcomes include: (a) annual planning, oversight, and assessment that produces yearly improvements, (b) project results that delight all stakeholders, leading to follow-on projects in subsequent years, and (c) minimal cost to produce results, leading to increased resources for infrastructure. Infrastructure development outcomes include: (a) locally produced, web-based design tools, rubrics, and quick references for just-in-time professional development, (b) innovative learning spaces for virtual and physical prototyping, and (c) diversity of well-maintained hardware and software supporting the creation of circuit board parts. Community development outcomes include: (a) vertical integration of design, engineering science, lab, and graduate courses for better results, (b) contributions to regional economic development, and (c) alliances with other units on and off campus that lead to new and exciting project opportunities.

Assessment Information: Program outcomes are measured as part of yearly ABET data collection in areas of design, teamwork, professionalism, communication, and life-long learning. Program outcomes are also regularly reviewed by capstone faculty, Design Expo judges, and by industry advisory boards. Results are recorded in program assessment reports, reviewed by departmental ABET committees, acted upon as appropriate, and maintained in an archive on a shared drive. Capstone faculty regularly review and update a program assessment document that identifies stakeholders, program attributes, and program scope as well as strategic goals and tactical goals under the four program areas—program operations, design education, design/manufacturing infrastructure, and community development.

Funding/Sustainability: The program began as an internal bootstrap effort with no more than $50k funding from engineering departments, external sponsors, and College of Engineering research groups for faculty, staff, and graduate students and less than $10k for materials. The first projects were done for $2000/ each. The goal is to expand partnerships to include over $100k/ year for graduate student support. Program support will be expanded with hardware/software sponsorships as well as modern manufacturing and metrology equipment that will facilitate a campus-wide expansion to students and faculty working on design projects in multiple disciplines. The program is self-sustaining and continues to operate even as faculty members come and go. One key feature of the program sustainability is a team of graduate student mentors which fosters professional and technical excellence by mentoring undergraduate design teams. Another feature that contributes to sustainability is the UI institutional commitment to providing financial support for the program. While the program has been enhanced with external support, the bulk of the program support is contributed by the University.

Suggested Citation:"University of Idaho." National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18184.
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The aim of this report is to encourage enhanced richness and relevance of the undergraduate engineering education experience, and thus produce better-prepared and more globally competitive graduates, by providing practical guidance for incorporating real world experience in US engineering programs. The report, a collaborative effort of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), builds on two NAE reports on The Engineer of 2020 that cited the importance of grounding engineering education in real world experience. This project also aligns with other NAE efforts in engineering education, such as the Grand Challenges of Engineering, Changing the Conversation, and Frontiers of Engineering Education.

This publication presents 29 programs that have successfully infused real world experiences into engineering or engineering technology undergraduate education. The Real World Engineering Education committee acknowledges the vision of AMD in supporting this project, which provides useful exemplars for institutions of higher education who seek model programs for infusing real world experiences in their programs. The NAE selection committee was impressed by the number of institutions committed to grounding their programs in real world experience and by the quality, creativity, and diversity of approaches reflected in the submissions. A call for nominations sent to engineering and engineering technology deans, chairs, and faculty yielded 95 high-quality submissions. Two conditions were required of the nominations: (1) an accredited 4-year undergraduate engineering or engineering technology program was the lead institutions, and (2) the nominated program started operation no later than the fall 2010 semester. Within these broad parameters, nominations ranged from those based on innovations within a single course to enhancements across an entire curriculum or institution.

Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education is intended to provide sufficient information to enable engineering and engineering technology faculty and administrators to assess and adapt effective, innovative models of programs to their own institution's objectives. Recognizing that change is rarely trivial, the project included a brief survey of selected engineering deans concern in the adoption of such programs.

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