Robert M. Stwalley III 2016-08-24 04:09:10
Purdue University Agricultural and Biological Engineering The Capstone projects at Purdue University are designed to mimic the objectives and responsibilities of an entry-level engineering job within a “safe” academic environment. Typically, Capstone projects run from the fall through the spring semesters, and 30 to 35 projects occur each school year. Project sponsorship varies from industrial clients needing to explore potential commercial solutions, to academic researchers requiring the design and construction of specialized apparatus, to NGOs seeking assistance for specific issues in the developing world. The communication and interaction between sponsor and students is critical to a successful project, and communication skills are emphasized throughout the course. For Capstone team member Jakob Keldsen, “having the opportunity to interact with and take advice from industry representatives” was the key aspect of the experience. ABE professors Bernie Engel, Martin Okos, and Bob Stwalley emphasize how vital communication is to the successful completion of technical projects. Stwalley says, “We continually tell students that they can have the best idea in the world, but if they can’t communicate anything about it, it will have no impact.” Business developer and Capstone judge Larry Loehr agrees: “In an industrial company, presentations are a part of life! We advance ideas, gain support for resources, report on status, communicate to stakeholders, and leverage our learning into other projects through presentations. During my Purdue years, I would have really welcomed a Capstone experience and an introduction to the presentation and group effort processes.” Teamwork is also a valuable part of the program. Although self-proposed individual efforts are allowed in the Purdue ABE Capstone sequence, team experiences are the normal route. Course instructors place most students on project teams to provide diverse skill sets and backgrounds, maximizing each team’s collective effort. Mike Cox, a USDA conservation engineer and Capstone judge, states that “working together as a group for a common goal and utilizing the individual talents of each team member to achieve the goals of the project is how professionals function.” Students also come to understand this fundamental aspect of the professional world. Graduating senior Danielle McNeely says, “I learned how to bond with team members, spend long hours on a difficult process, and work for a community sponsor.” Purdue ABE Capstone projects are designed to be meaningful. Students need to see the utility of what they do, along with how it will affect their organization. A reasonably steady panel of external and internal reviewers provides consistent feedback, and the opportunity for the students to make corrections during the program is provided by multiple reviews over the length of the program. The reporting structure concludes with a poster session defense of the year’s work. Many students have told us that the impact of the program was significant for them in determining the initial direction of their professional careers.
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