Advisor Guide & Course Organization Notes

Background

The joint ME/MET Capstone project is a year-long integrated design experience, required for all ME and MET students. The two capstone 1 classes ETME489 and EMEC489 meet concurrently, as do the two capstone 2 classes ETME499 and EMEC499. Capstone requires student teams to work on sponsored projects representative of career tasks, and to utilize a variety of skills to plan, design, analyze, fabricate and then test their product while thoroughly documenting the process.

Projects

Projects are solicited by the course instructor(s) from a variety of sources. Most projects come from industrial contacts outside of MSU, or from small businesses or entrepreneurs. M&IE Department Faculty and other MSU Faculty provide an increasingly large percentage of projects, and often use the Capstone course as a mechanism to have custom research or lab equipment designed and fabricated. And each year, several project teams are formed to compete in university-level regional/national/international competitions. We often team with ECE or other departments to create interdisciplinary student teams.

Projects are presented to enrolled students at the beginning of Capstone 1: Students review the available projects and request their favorites, and the instructor(s) place students onto project teams.  New projects are listed on the Capstone 1 Web link, and ongoing capstone 2 projects are shown on the Capstone 2 link.

A sponsorship agreement is used to define sponsor obligations, and specifies that a sponsor representative must be identified to provide continuity between sponsor, students, and the advisor. Sponsors are asked to be engaged with the project and provide timely feedback, but are also asked to refrain from exerting excessive control over the project - allowing the students to fully engage in the design process. Sponsors are required to pay project expenses such as materials, parts, student travel costs as necessary, etc.

Student teams

Typical team makeup is 3-4 students per design team, although groups may have more or fewer members depending upon the project scope. Group membership is selected based on student input which is taken into consideration as project assignments are made. Once membership is assigned, the design teams must contact their sponsor in order to flesh out project scope, expectations, interfaces and limitations, deliverables, budget, and other project elements.Teams are are required to arrange a weekly meeting with their assigned faculty advisor.

Faculty Advisors

Since this course is run as joint ME/MET, it is likely that students from both disciplines will be involved. And many projects are interdisciplinary efforts involving students from other departments such as ECE: In fact, due to the regular occurrence of joint projects we've aligned the course meeting times coincident with the ECE Department's Capstone course, to facilitate these interdisciplinary team projects.

Faculty advisors for groups with mixed backgrounds should be aware of and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of students from each discipline represented.  Advisors are in-place to help their group make the most of the diverse academic backgrounds and skill sets, while promoting teamwork and encouraging achievement of common project goals.

The Capstone project is often defined as the 'culminating experience' in undergraduate engineering programs. Projects require that group members apply many of the topics and techniques developed in prior classes. Each project draws from different skill-sets, but nearly all projects involve learning and applying system integration methods, project management fundamentals, fabrication methods, teamwork, scheduling, testing, and presentation. Development of a complete working engineer's skill-set can be enhanced by an involved faculty advisor: Project outcomes often depend upon the advice - or lack of advice - given. The advisor's level of interest and enthusiasm has a tremendous impact on group morale and project outcomes.

The advisor is not expected to do the work for a design team! However, each advisor should try to understand and to be able to offer advice on the technical issues of the project. Some projects involve topics outside the advisor's area of expertise: In such cases the advisor should be willing to solicit help, or to steer group members towards sources of information or to other experts. An advisor must often do a little research on topics that become pertinent to a particular phase of the design project. It is ideal for Faculty Advisors to meet the project sponsor, and they should understand the sponsor's requirements, budget, tolerance for risk, and attitude regarding prototype performance, in order to act as intermediary between capstone group members and the sponsor. An important Faculty Advisor task is to help control or stem the occurrence of  'requirements creep' that sometimes happens as projects evolve.

Through weekly meetings and project awareness, each faculty advisor has "fingers on the pulse" of their group. Communication of any concerns and issues involving course format & administration, student conduct, facilities, projects, etc. is expected to help ensure that the capstone coursework continues to provide the student experience desired.

Students get the opportunity to review advisor performance at the end of each term. This feedback is shared with the department head and advisor in the spirit of continuous improvement.

Resources

The MIE Manufacturing Lab sets open hours each term to support student fabrication needs. Students must complete a shop safety review and quiz, and then must obey all shop rules during use of our shop facilities. Student workers are employed to staff the shop during open hours. Procedures, hours, and other shop links are posted on the syllabus and updated by Manufacturing Lab staff.

Students often utilize other resources including home shops, research lab equipment, sponsor facilities, etc. Advisors should discuss the use of these external resources (not under MSU control) with their group members, and emphasize the safety and access challenges inherent in their use. Remember, MSU insurance may not apply in cases of accidents off-campus. 

Other MSU resources brought to bear in support of projects include software and equipment in university computer labs, materials labs, maker spaces, instrumentation and measurement labs, etc.

GTA Support

GTAs have been assigned to Capstone 1 and 2. These graduate students are charged with providing uniform critique of submitted deliverables such as draft chapters, project plans, etc. This requirement is heavier for Capstone 1 students, so typical GTA workload is balanced towards Capstone 1 support. For Capstone 2 the GTA team helps with feedback on the few formal documents (project management plan updates, and written deliverables such as the end-of-term Technical Addendum.) Capstone 2 GTAs spend additional time on presentation evaluations, 

Summary of Capstone Advisor Obligations

  • The faculty advisor is expected to support the design team in their efforts. Typically, students in Capstone will face tasks in research, product and system design, analysis, fabrication, and testing. Project management and scheduling of group tasks will be key to group success. The advisor should offer constructive criticism of technical aspects of the design team's work, and should meet with their capstone group weekly to ensure group progress on both management and technical tasks. (Schedule 1 hour per week, per group.)
  • Groups prepare and submit a weekly status memo. Advisors should get a copy for use as the "talking paper" for the advising session. Advisors may wish to  keep these memos on file as a reference and record of student progress.
  • An effective advisor should be aware of capstone deliverables as they apply to the students they advise, to ensure advisor direction and expectations align with the course structure.
  • Maintain high standards for student capstone work. Help to enforce writing quality and content standards, and demand professionalism in all aspects of the student project including the student's interactions with faculty, sponsors, and peers.
  • The advisor should support student definition of project requirements, and efforts to develop reasonable specifications & achievable goals.
  • The advisor should monitor the group's research and design progress, and ensure student conformance to the basic Design Process methodology (see Design Process notes below.)
  • The advisor should- as necessary - help facilitate interaction of student groups with the sponsor. Help student groups guard against creeping requirements - and let the course instructor know if the sponsor tries to drastically change the deliverables and/or schedule.
  • The advisor should make efforts to attend oral presentations & the engineering design fair. 
  • The advisor should provide feedback regarding final written report contents, based upon writing requirements & format guide.
  • At the close of the semester, provide grade recommendations to the course instructor for each group member, per the course guidelines.

Review of the Engineering Design Process

Application of a formal Engineering Design Process is emphasized in both Capstone courses. Faculty supervisors should know the basic design process steps, and should help their group apply these steps to their specific project. These steps also correspond to the primary chapters in the final written report and to most assigned writing deliverables.

"Design Process Steps" include:

  • Development of a concise problem statement to isolate the task at hand in the simplest, most direct manner.
  • Investigating, in-depth, available background information including any technologies that may lead to design solutions. Falling under this category are past solutions, tried and true methods, emerging technologies, design elements and components from other applications or fields. Groups should delve into material properties and costs, sources of supplies and data, and any unique analyses or design procedures that might impact their design. Any regulatory or legal issues must be investigated, as well as heath & safety, ergonomics, environmental impacts, life-cycle analysis, etc. This is the most time consuming step, perhaps impossible to ever fully complete - but yet it is the most important task undertaken by the design group or arguably by any researchers. They must become experts in topics that apply to their project.
  • Working with the sponsor to itemize basic "Level 1 Requirements" that become the 'contract' for the group's efforts. Then, use those requirements to generate concise and accurate engineering design specifications to guide the evaluation of alternative solutions. These specifications are 'before the fact' targets or goals, not performance specs like those associated with a commercial product.
  • Development of reasonable alternative solutions to the problem. Often the project must be broken into many steps, each having multiple alternatives: This step requires imagination, creativity, and freedom from excessive outside influences (like dictatorial faculty supervisors or meddling sponsors!) to succeed. Free-wheeling brainstorming sessions can be very productive in this step.
  • Evaluation of alternatives: Some proposed combinations of solution steps may be workable, some unreasonable, some may be absurd, but hopefully several will emerge as viable alternative solution methods. A reasonable scheme to evaluate and select the alternatives that are the most likely to succeed - prior to fully developing and analyzing each possibility - is required in order to streamline the process. There is rarely time in academia or industry to complete multiple designs first and then choose the best; that would be far too resource-intensive. This evaluation step points the group in the "best" direction early, to the exclusion of other less viable alternatives. If subsequent analysis and testing reveals problems, other alternatives may rise to the top.
  • Detailing & Documenting the (best!) solution. Required elements include a thorough and concise written description, accurate figures/images/sketches/tables, full analytical treatment, references and bibliography, precise and correct component drawings of all elements designed by the group, accurate and properly formatted assembly drawings, and detailed cost information and performance info on purchased components & raw materials, etc. Once again, see the course website for requirements.
  • Prototype Fabrication and Testing. Obviously this is a major focus of the MET and ME programs, and is an absolute requirement: Fabrication of high resolution prototypes and the subsequent testing and characterization of the result are critical. Most of this activity occurs during the second semester of the course.

Special Note for competition project group advisors:

These projects must conform to rather extensive written rules and requirements. In some cases the competition deliverable aligns in purpose with certain course deliverables, but may differ in formats or schedule from capstone material. (e.g. SAE Cost Report!) Where these near-duplications exist we will make accommodations to collect the required competition deliverables in lieu of the normally-assigned course deliverables. In such cases, the STUDENT GROUP must first petition for acceptance of the substitution. PLEASE become familiar with the rules and requirements of these projects including formats, schedules, rules, etc. and help to determine if substitutions are warranted

Comments on Pre- and Co-requisites

If a student receives a D/W/F in a course listed as co-requisites for the Capstone 1 course, they are not eligible to proceed to Capstone 2. Once the grade shortcoming is rectified, students will be able to continue in Capstone 2 but they will be assigned to an ongoing (different) project.

Faculty advisors have some influence on student behavior and planning, so this point should be made to any struggling students in the groups that you advise

 

Updated 10/17/2018 rlarson