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Behind the Scenes of the Capstone Project

Despite all the learning and advancement that happens in the classroom, it’s hard to replicate real world experiences and problems on the average homework assignment. The Capstone experience sits between junior year and graduation for most engineering students to close that gap between the classroom and industry.

The required two-semester Capstone course is an opportunity for seniors to get real-world experience. They design and prototype products in collaboration with a faculty coach and liaison engineers from sponsoring companies across a wide range of industries.

“It’s important to know that Capstone is different from any other engineering class you’ve had,” said external relations manager Lisa Barrager. “If you approach it as just another class to pass and get through you’ll miss the best parts of what Capstone is all about. This is your chance to take all the learning you’ve done the last several years and put them into a real project for a real company.”

Capstone projects consist of student teams typically ranging from 4-89 people from different disciplines in the college — and for many students, that’s been the most unexpected hurdle and newest challenge.

Caroline Sorensen, a senior in mechanical engineering, was surprised at both the challenges and the benefits that came along with having a unique combination of team members to work with in class every weekday morning for two semesters.

“Communication has been a big challenge but also a big blessing, because you’re working with different people every day,” Sorensen said. “this isn’t just a little class group project where you work on it for one week and then you’re done, it’s a long project.”

The length comes with learning how to celebrate the little successes and work through the failures with the sponsor and other members of the team.

The Capstone program provides networking opportunities and creates relationships that can (and have) helped launch successful careers.

Bradley Fergeson, a member of the Mars Rover team, talked about how beneficial all of this application has been for launching him into his future career. He’s always loved robots, and Capstone is the link between his high school obsession and his future job.

Mechanical engineering senior Marcus Behling, who just got accepted into the department's doctoral program, said that the capstone project has been one of the most rewarding parts of his experience in the program.

At the end of the Capstone project, the participants have the opportunity to show off their hard work at the annual Capstone Designs Fair. The students also occasionally get to see the impact their project is making in the world when it’s implemented. Some even travel across the globe to see the products they designed, commercially produced and put to use, as was the case with the village drill installed in Africa in 2011.

“I feel like one of the greatest things about Capstone is that this is where engineering becomes real,” said Lisa Barrager. “It’s no longer just solving a problem for a specific answer. There are hard decisions to make, often tricky relationships and team dynamics to navigate. I love seeing students become real engineers through the course of the year.”
Visit the Capstone website to learn more about the projects and the program.