Lead Institution: Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, CA
Collaborating Institutions: Industry, government labs, academic institutions
Date Implemented: 1963
Program Description: Founded in 1963, the Engineering Clinic is the capstone design experience for all Engineering majors at Harvey Mudd College. Inspired by the medical school model in which young doctors learn to treat patients in a supervised clinical environment, Engineering Clinic helps young engineers learn professional practice on real problems from real companies in a supervised environment and has served as the model for similar capstone experiences at schools around the world. We also run 1-3 Global Clinic projects each year in partnership with multinational corporations and universities. Students work in teams of 4-5 under the guidance of a liaison from the sponsor and a faculty advisor. Seniors participate in a project for the entire academic year, while juniors participate for either the fall or spring semester. Students are entirely responsible for the project and gain experience leading their teams, scheduling the work, and managing a budget. Generally projects work best when the sponsor has a strong business justification for investing in the project and when the liaisons’ professional objectives are aligned with those of their organization. About 60-65% of Clinics are run in the Engineering department, 25% in Computer Science, and the remainder in mathematics and physics. 10-15% of the projects are joint between departments. The majority of Engineering Clinics are highly interdisciplinary, which is a good match to HMC’s nonspecialized degree in Engineering. Examples of recent Engineering Clinic Projects have included: (1) Los Alamos National Laboratory: instrument a wind turbine to measure vibrational mode shapes and use the measured data to refine a finite element model of the turbine; (2) CareFusion: design, build, and test a novel peristaltic infusion pump; (3) Aerospace Corporation: design, build, test, and fly a spaceborne distress beacon board in a picosat; and (4) SEAmagine Hydrospace Corporation: design, build, and test a sensor system to assist a submarine operator cleaning oil spills.
Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: Since 1963, Harvey Mudd College has completed nearly 1400 Clinic projects. Presently, we carry out 23-26 per year in Engineering, about 10 in Computer Science, and 5 between Physics and Math, including several interdisciplinary projects each year. Faculty expect that students will learn how to approach large open-ended problems, teach themselves new technical skills, apply existing technical skills in a professional context, interact with sponsors and suppliers, and sharpen their teamwork, leadership, presentation, and writing skills. Many students report during exit surveys that Clinic was the most influential part of their educational experience. Sponsor satisfaction is excellent, with 95% of sponsors typically rating the outcome at 4 or higher on a 5-point scale and 60-70% sponsoring another project in the next year.
Assessment Information: Clinic is assessed against 10 of the 11 ABET criteria and against three internal goals (high-quality projects, good value to sponsor, capital equipment upgrades) using nine assessment instruments involving direct and indirect measurements by students, faculty, sponsors, and staff. The assessment yields 35 items quantified on a 5-point scale, along with four open-ended items related to areas of student interest and technologies and software required. Overall results tend to be well above our targets, and dips on certain metrics from year to year motivate ongoing programmatic improvement. Overall, recent assessment data indicate that students were well prepared for Clinic, apply appropriate tools and techniques, contribute well to multidisciplinary teams, present their results remarkably well, have adequate facilities for their work, and produce highly satisfied sponsors. We would like to see continued improvement in the rigor with which the students state their results, the alignment between stated goals and final deliverables, and the students’ ability to articulate the impact of their work on society. Assessment has also led to targeted investments in capital equipment and CAD capabilities to meet the increasing technical needs of the projects.
Funding/Sustainability: The program has been run on a self-sustaining basis for nearly 50 years. Clinic raises over $1M of external funding from project sponsors each year. About a third goes to the college overhead, a quarter goes to materials and travel for each project, and a quarter goes for salaries of support staff. The remainder covers programmatic expenses and capital equipment upgrades. Clinic has recently designated an Associate Clinic Director in addition to the Clinic Director, which provides more resources for recruiting projects and strengthening the academic content of the program as well as creating growth opportunities for mid-career faculty. Sponsors pay $47,000 and commit a liaison for weekly teleconferences; in return, they get a hardware prototype and all of the intellectual property rights. Many sponsors also consider Clinic an important part of their recruiting strategy. Clinic sponsors have been approximately 60% established companies, 23% national labs, 10% startups, 5% other academic institutions, and 2% foundations.