Cultivating these teams requires behind-the-scenes work across the college, with individual students selecting Interdisciplinary Capstone projects when registering for the course. Gray and his fellow department capstone faculty (from mechanical, electrical and computer, industrial and systems, biomedical, mechanical, and material sciences engineering) then accept those students who fill the needs of the specific industry teams. Competition teams are selected for the Interdisciplinary Capstone based on best fit with instructors and resources.
The course emulates the real-world structure of engineering, demanding high-level communication and partnership from students of all engineering disciplines, from industrial and systems to biomechanical to electrical engineering, while meeting project milestones.
The Interdisciplinary Capstone format also fulfills the vision of Robin Ott, associate professor of practice in mechanical engineering, when discussions for a cross-college capstone course began nearly six years ago. As an engineer with 20 years’ industry experience, Ott is invested in prepping engineering students for collaborative careers.
“In mechanical [engineeering], roughly 85 percent of the students go straight into industry, and 15 percent continue onto grad school,” she said. “We as educators need to truly prepare students. Every company I’ve ever worked for has interdisciplinary teams, and so we must expose them to interdisciplinary teamwork.”
Whether in the mechancial engineering senior design courses she teaches – which were the foundation for the two-year pilot of the Interdisciplinary Capstone that started in fall 2020 – or the Interdisciplinary Capstone itself, Ott views the industry connections students can make through capstone courses as instrumental exposure.
Queen agrees, highlighting the feedback she received from industry partners during the Interdisciplinary Capstone pilot.
“The industry experts came back and said the course is an invaluable experience for these students to have while they’re in school. They’ll understand how to do the work asked of them when hired into the companies and asked to do the same thing,” Queen said. “The industry partners were also very impressed with the students and the work they were able to produce during the year-long course.”