Steve Zahos 2016-08-24 03:59:44
Capstones and Stepping Stones Welcome to the first-ever Capstone issue of Resource! I should have known that a suggestion for a Capstone issue would be instantly welcomed by ASABE’s terrific publication. In addition, as we spread the word about the plans for this special issue, we expected an outpouring of support from our contributing institutions, and that’s what we got. It’s been uplifting and exciting to read about the dedicated, hardworking students, faculty, alumni, and industry leaders who are creating meaningful real-world experiences. As you read through this issue, you’ll be amazed at the diversity of Capstone projects and the breadth of how the projects were selected, staffed, and conducted. Even the geographic focus was global. Here at the University of Illinois, we are fond of saying that our students work on the land, in the air, and in space. We are not alone! In talking to my colleagues and through my work as an ABET Program Evaluator, it’s been my experience that Capstone is a serious component of an engineering program’s accreditation efforts. It’s the perfect demonstration that the graduates have had major design experience within reasonable constraints, including consideration of standards, economics, ethics, professionalism, and a global context. The quality of the tools that are available to students is so high that it is shaking some traditional beliefs about what a design project should entail. I graduated back in the 20th century. Today, students can routinely generate everything on paper or on line, run a finite element analysis, and even skip the usual prototype phase. Thankfully, although that kind of abstract engineering is possible, I believe that my colleagues, on balance, don’t want their students to miss out on the experience of building, testing, breaking, redesigning, and seeing their work deployed. In fact, projects that start out as purely paper studies are practically passé. What counts is work that can be handed over to the sponsoring entity for further development. That’s what happens in the real world! An old expression says that business is easy until people are involved. How true this could be for Capstone teams as well. Students from a variety of backgrounds, geographic areas, native languages, and other circumstances must come together for sixteen or more grueling weeks, while juggling other coursework, family, and outside work responsibilities. For many, it’s the first time they’ve been involved in a team-based, open-ended, and possibly industry- linked project. And, for the most part, they handle it very well. My predecessor told me of the time when he had to defuse a fistfight between team members in the tractor lab. We didn’t ask for any such anecdotes from our contributors, nor were any offered, but I know that Capstone is a high-stress undertaking. None of the projects featured in this issue were easy or routine. Nothing important ever is. You will get a sense that the students believe in engineering as their calling, and their Capstone projects were a learning experience that they will remember and use for a lifetime. Many engineering lessons, and life lessons, were exchanged among the students. The faculty advisors donated time that they could have used for other responsibilities, and each sponsor dedicated a high-value working engineer, often two, to guide the students and evaluate the projects. Many of the participating students received, and accepted, job offers from their clients. The Resource staff and I started out believing that the ASABE family would be interested in what is happening with Capstone in member institutions. I think you will agree that the family is “playing nice” and that we can all be proud of the dedicated people involved. There are a lot of moving parts and motivations in Capstone, and the stories in this issue prove that the concept is in good hands. The engineer’s drive toward continuous improvement will see to that. Guest editor and ASABE member Steve Zahos, MS, MBA, Senior Design Capstone Coordinator, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, email@example.com.
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