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AC 2007-2486: MANAGING SENIOR PROJECTS: EDUCATING GRADUATES AND UNDERGRADUATES IN A SENIOR PROJECT COURSE

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Abstract—All seniors in computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering at __________ University take a multidisciplinary senior design course. In the first week of the Fall semester, students are assigned to teams (based on their ranked preference), and each team is then given a project that contains both electrical and mechanical aspects. Some past projects have included competing in national design competitions, developing a student entrepreneurial project, creating a prototype for industry, advancing a National Science Foundation sponsored research project, or helping people in developing countries. Teams are typically made up of two to three electrical/computer engineering students and two to three mechanical engineering students. All teams have a primary advisor from one discipline and a secondary advisor from another discipline to balance the expertise available to each team. The structure of the course follows the design process from conception to a computational model of the design to the creation of a physical prototype. The loop is closed by requiring each team to test their prototype based on design requirements developed earlier in the design process. In the summer of 2006, the College of Engineering and the College of Business Administration offered their first course in a new Master of Engineering Management,(MEM) program. A unique aspect of this program is the MEM 625/626 course sequence. In this pair of courses, MEM graduate students become,project managers for the senior design teams in the undergraduate, multidisciplinary senior design course described above. This has had numerous benefits for both programs. Undergraduates are now given an experience that more closely resembles that which many will find in industry upon graduation, while the graduate students are given a chance to practice the project management,skills learned in their own coursework. This paper describes the decisions made during the process of incorporatingthe graduate
AC 2007-2486: MANAGING SENIOR PROJECTS: EDUCATING GRADUATES
AND UNDERGRADUATES IN A SENIOR PROJECT COURSE
Michael Hagenberger, Valparaiso University
Peter Johnson, Valparaiso University
Doug Tougaw, Valparaiso University
Jeffrey Will, Valparaiso University
Mark Budnik, Valparaiso University
Kathleen Sevener, Valparaiso University
© American Society for Engineering Education, 2007
Managing Senior Projects – Educating Graduates and
Undergraduates in a Senior Project Course
Abstract—All seniors in computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering at __________
University take a multidisciplinary senior design course. In the first week of the Fall semester,
students are assigned to teams (based on their ranked preference), and each team is then given a
project that contains both electrical and mechanical aspects. Some past projects have included
competing in national design competitions, developing a student entrepreneurial project, creating
a prototype for industry, advancing a National Science Foundation sponsored research project, or
helping people in developing countries. Teams are typically made up of two to three
electrical/computer engineering students and two to three mechanical engineering students. All
teams have a primary advisor from one discipline and a secondary advisor from another
discipline to balance the expertise available to each team. The structure of the course follows the
design process from conception to a computational model of the design to the creation of a
physical prototype. The loop is closed by requiring each team to test their prototype based on
design requirements developed earlier in the design process.
In the summer of 2006, the College of Engineering and the College of Business Administration
offered their first course in a new Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program. A
unique aspect of this program is the MEM 625/626 course sequence. In this pair of courses,
MEM graduate students become project managers for the senior design teams in the
undergraduate, multidisciplinary senior design course described above. This has had numerous
benefits for both programs. Undergraduates are now given an experience that more closely
resembles that which many will find in industry upon graduation, while the graduate students are
given a chance to practice the project management skills learned in their own coursework.
This paper describes the decisions made during the process of incorporating the graduate
students into the undergraduate, senior projects course, the benefits of these choices, and the
lessons learned throughout this process.
1. Introduction
The engineering graduate of 2007 must demonstrate a wide variety of expertise, ranging from
foundational knowledge in mathematics and science to critical thinking, creativity, design
expertise, and communication skills. In addition to these abilities, it is becoming apparent that
knowledge of business and management skills is also essential for the career-long success of an
engineer.
1-4
Engineering management can, in fact, be considered its own discipline, and a
number of universities offer specific engineering management degrees that help students prepare
to become both technically skilled and knowledgeable about managing other engineers in a
professional setting.
5-9
Even within traditional engineering programs, the importance of
engineering management is emphasized in a variety of settings, including senior design
projects
10-12
and undergraduate research programs.
13
With the ever-increasing curricular pressures on undergraduate engineering programs, it is
difficult to see how significant engineering management could be incorporated without
necessarily decreasing the emphasis on other areas of importance.
14
Such decisions should be
considered seriously and made in the context of the learning objectives of the program.
15
One
possible solution to this challenge that is gaining in popularity is an undergraduate degree in
engineering followed by a graduate degree in engineering management.
16-23
A Master of
Engineering Management (MEM) degree allows the students to first develop a solid technical
background in their undergraduate programs and then focus on engineering management issues
either immediately in a fifth year of college or later after they have been in the workforce for a
few years.
24
Such graduate programs in engineering management share some similarities with
Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees, but they are specifically crafted for students
who have an engineering background and a desire to manage engineering teams.
25-26
Teaching
such a program effectively can be very challenging, requiring extensive professional
development by engineering faculty and close collaboration with faculty in a College of Business
Administration.
27-28
At the same time, the most successful engineering graduates typically exhibit a strong
entrepreneurial spirit, whether this spirit is reflected in starting one’s own business or in taking
responsibility for one’s own career success in a larger corporation.
29
The skills required of an
entrepreneur closely mirror those required by the engineering accreditation process,
30
especially
the ability to work effectively on multidisciplinary teams
31-34
. Furthermore, entrepreneurial
skills have been shown to promote engineering management skills,
35
ethical thought processes,
36
and engineering design.
37-40
The engineering faculty at ______ University have worked diligently over the past decade to
continually improve the senior design experiences offered to its engineering students.
41-44
In this
paper, we will address the most recent improvements made to the course during the summer of
2006 and during the 2006-2007 academic year, integrating engineering management and
entrepreneurship by including MEM students as project managers on half of the teams while
using the other half of teams as a control group.
2. Master of Engineering Management Program Description
In the summer of 2006, the College of Engineering and the College of Business Administration
offered their first course in a new Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program. This
program has been designed specifically to provide engineering graduates with the business skills
they will need for successful careers. One emphasis for the program is a focus on values-based
leadership skills that will prepare graduates for engineering project management positions.
A unique aspect of this program is the MEM 625/626 course sequence. In this pair of courses,
MEM graduate students become project managers for senior design teams in the undergraduate,
multidisciplinary senior design course described in the following section. A later section will
discuss some of the choices that were made for the integration of these students into an
established course sequence that has been optimized over the past decade and has historically
been extremely successful.
To prepare MEM students for the MEM 625/626 course sequence, students are required to take a
graduate level project management course before the start of the fall semester. This course,
MEM 605 Project Management, emphasizes the importance of technical skills, communication
skills, and interpersonal skills in order to assume leadership roles in project management and
product development. MEM 605 is a seminar-based course that provides an open atmosphere,
allowing for multiple discussion opportunities and guest speakers that can provide students with
real-world contexts to supplement traditional textbook knowledge.
3. Multidisciplinary Design Projects at ________ University
The capstone senior design experience for Mechanical Engineering (ME) and Electrical and
Computer Engineering (ECE) students at _________ University has rapidly developed into one
of the most valuable learning experiences for the undergraduate students. The course sequence
covers two semesters and provides a multidisciplinary, team design experience to students in
both the mechanical and electrical/computer disciplines. Prior to the 2000-2001 academic year,
both the ME and ECE departments had an independent senior design sequence. In the summer of
2001, these were merged by the ME and ECE departments, and this has continued to the present.
The senior design curriculum change was motivated by a need to place additional emphasis on
developing student skills in product design and effective multidisciplinary teamwork. Much
curriculum development at our university and others has focused on these skills since the
introduction of Engineering Criteria 2000 by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and
Technology. Additionally, multidisciplinary design and teamwork have been active areas in
curriculum development at other universities.
Each team of four to six students (including at least two students from ECE and at least two
students from ME) are assigned a primary advisor from either ECE or ME. A professor from the
other discipline serves as a technical advisor, but does not advise the team on a week-to-week
basis. Students meet with their advisor for a 50-minute session once per week to report on their
progress and receive guidance on how to deal with the challenges they face on the project. In
addition, there is an all-course weekly meeting that is 50 minutes in duration. During this
meeting, professors deliver lecture material or students give oral progress reports.
The assignments throughout the two-course sequence are intended to impart the engineering
design process to the students. Early in the fall, students produce a document outlining the
system design requirements defining the measurable outcomes for success. Students then
generate three alternative solutions and evaluate an optimal solution based on a quantitative tool.
By the end of the fall semester, students develop an electronic prototype, verifying their design
through computer tools such as CAD and PSPICE. By the end of the second semester, students
have designed and constructed a prototype based on measurable criteria and will have tested this
prototype to ensure that it meets these criteria.
An important aspect to focus on for the purposes of this paper is the interaction between the
faculty advisor and the student group. The advising meeting typically consists of a report on the
status of the project by the student team leader, followed by individual reports by each member
on his/her personal progress. Finally, challenges facing the team are presented, and under the
advisor’s direction, the team sets the goals for the next week. In this capacity, the advisor acts as
a direct manager, as well as the grader of their work.
4. Incorporating Project Managers into Senior Projects
The senior design course sequence has gone through many improvements in recent years, and
has proven to be an invaluable course for our students. Following a series of planning meetings
and considerable discussion it was decided that the integration of MEM students as project
managers into the course would result in numerous benefits for both the seniors and the graduate
students. During the planning process, extreme care was taken to ensure that any changes made
to the senior design course would only enhance the student experience and not cause any
negative effects. Not surprising, there were many challenges encountered when planning for this
latest revision of the course.
Defining the roles of the MEM students was the first step in planning the integration of project
managers into the senior project course. Although all MEM students have technical expertise in
electrical, computer, or mechanical engineering, the decision was made to not allow them to
perform any technical work or make unilateral decisions about the project design. The purpose of
MEM 625/626 is to give the graduate students the opportunity to manage a project in a
controlled environment. Since many of the graduate students may have recently completed their
senior capstone experience, it is important that their role is restricted from simply repeating that
experience. Therefore, realizing the MEM student will have technical expertise beyond that of
the seniors, teams were encouraged to take full advantage of this knowledge and MEM student’s
technical role was limited to that of an advisor. The ideal authority of the MEM students falls
halfway between the faculty advisor and the undergraduate team leader. In this sense, the faculty
advisors have taken a half step up from their previous roles and the undergraduate team leaders
have taken a half step down in their level of responsibility.
Administratively, faculty members in the senior design course also grade the MEM student’s
performance. The additional faculty work of grading the graduate student is balanced by the
expectation that the MEM student’s work will slightly decrease the advisor’s work with the
project team. The MEM student’s grade is determined, in part, on specific deliverables. Some of
these deliverables are one-time assignments covering the entire scope of the project, i.e., an
analysis of the stakeholders involved in the project as well as a responsibility matrix for each
stakeholder. Others are regular, weekly responsibilities, such as maintaining a detailed schedule
of performance and budget for the team. The budget includes a means of tracking internal costs
by “charging” for consultation with faculty (including the team’s advisor) and for using facilities
such as the manufacturing lab. This is done to model the costs that many companies will realize
during a project. Teams are not actually charged for these services, but they are included in the
MEM student’s budget for the project.
Administration of the weekly meetings with all of the team members (senior design students,
project manager, and advisor) are also the responsibility of the MEM student. The faculty
advisors’ “half-step up” means they now evaluate how the graduate students lead the meeting as
opposed to leading the meeting themselves. MEM students must develop the agenda and meeting
minutes as well as ensure that the meeting stays on schedule and that important information is
communicated to the advisor.
MEM students also have the responsibility to evaluate their teams on a regular basis in a weekly
report and in a final team evaluation. The graduate student’s performance is evaluated based on
the quality of their feedback to the undergraduate students and on the feedback they provide on
the undergraduate students’ written work and oral presentations. Senior design teams have large
reports to complete once each semester as well as two important presentations. For the
documents, a copy is provided to the MEM student to evaluate while the advisor grades the
report. Once the advisor has evaluated the report, the graduate student’s feedback is assessed by
the faculty advisor to determine their performance of the MEM student as a manager. Oral
presentations are also evaluated by the MEM student and the quality of these evaluations is also
assessed, by the faculty advisor, in the overall review of the graduate student.
5. Benefits of the New System
The benefits of this endeavor impacted the undergraduate students, MEM student, and advisors.
Undergraduates were given an experience that more closely resembles that which many will find
in industry upon graduation, while the graduate students were given a chance to utilize the
project management skills they learned in their own coursework. Advisors benefit from a
change in level of management as well as the perspective gained from the addition of a project
manager.
Though undergraduates typically did not appreciate (or even realize) the extra dimension that the
MEM student provided, it did indeed exist. Typically in a senior design course, students face
quite a contrast from their normal lecture/homework/exam-based courses. The nature of the
work is open-ended and unstructured. It is precisely this environment that often causes students
to struggle, while instructors realize that it is imperative for their future success. In this vein, the
MEM student added more complexity to the course, and this resulted in both a broader and
deeper experience for the students.
The experience of managing a team is the inherent goal of the MEM 625/626 course, and is a
direct benefit to the MEM student. In the same way that the undergraduate students are typically
not familiar with an unstructured course and profit from the struggles of overcoming it, so too
the MEM student gains a trial by fire when she/he is thrust in front of five undergraduate
students and asked to assume a leadership role. An often repeated salve to the consciousness of
the instructors is that we wish for students to make their mistakes here rather than on the initial
stage of their professional career.
One advisor comments that the addition of an MEM manager brought a stark contrast to his own
leadership style. The instructor had a high-level “get things done” attitude, whereas the MEM
student had more of a detail-oriented “how will we implement this?” style. Though this at first
created a bit of dissonance with the group, it eventually led to an appreciation of the benefits of
the alternate style for both student and instructor. It also gave an added depth to the student
teams to see that not only are there different leadership styles, but that they will have to be able
to deal with both types (and more) in industry. It is largely these sorts of real world “issues” that
give students a rich experience in preparing them for industry.
6. Lessons Learned
As with any initial venture, the bad comes with the good. Even in the first semester, the
instructors identified several key improvements to augment the experience for students in the
spring semester of the two-course sequence. These revolved primarily around communication
and organization.
In the second half of the academic year, the faculty advisors set a one-hour meeting time for all
MEM students and all MEM faculty advisors. In this meeting, each MEM student gave a report
of their team’s status using an industry-standard form for progress reporting. This provided
continuity across groups, feedback from other advisors for a particular group, and a sense of
accountability for each MEM student, who had to appear before both peers and all faculty
advisors. It also provided a check for progress in groups and a sense for MEM students that they
were synchronized with their fellow students. This extra meeting time has proven to be very
effective.
Another lesson learned involved direct communication between MEM student and advisor. In
the second part of the course, each advisor had an individual meeting with his or her MEM
student to give feedback to the student and to discuss strategies in managing the group. This
proved to have two effects. It gave immediate, direct feedback to the MEM student, and it also
insured that the advisor and the MEM student were on the same page. In this way, the one-on-
one meetings reduced the likelihood that the MEM student and the advisor would give
conflicting messages to the undergraduate team.
7. Conclusions
The integration of engineering management graduate students into an undergraduate capstone
design course has been a unique challenge at all levels. The experience described in this paper
was the first offering of the senior design course that incorporated MEM students. It provided an
opportunity to study the changes that were made and provide the feedback necessary to improve
subsequent iterations of the course. As in any significant change to a course, it is an on-going
process. However, during this process, the faculty members involved in the process have learned
a great deal and are encouraged by the benefits this initial trial has brought to both the
undergraduate and graduate students. While an insufficient amount of data exists to determine
quantitatively if these changes have been a success, the lessons that have been learned will allow
the faculty to improve two experiences that __________ University is proud to offer.
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... Students in electrical, computer, and mechanical engineering at Valparaiso University are required to complete a two-semester senior design project experience – GE 497/498 Senior Design Project I and II [Hagenberger, 2007; Johnson, 2007 a-b; Tougaw, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007]. Prior to the start of Fall classes, faculty compile a list of available projects that typically involve a mixture of service-based projects, industry-sponsored projects, faculty research projects, projects for national student design competitions, and other academic projects. ...
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It has been well documented that international service-learning design projects in engineering provide many educational benefits to the students involved in these projects. This article addresses the question of whether or not the benefits gained from international service-learning design projects extend to those students who are not directly involved with these projects but are peers of those who are. To answer this question, graduates of the senior design projects course at Valparaiso University from 2003 to 2008 were surveyed on the course learning objectives, their desire to participate in service-related activities, and their social and cultural awareness. The responses from this survey show that peers of students who experienced an international service-learning design project developed a stronger desire to participate in service-related activities than those alumni who experienced the course when an international service-learning design project was not offered. The responses also show that these same peers felt they were more aware of societal issues and other cultures as well. This article discusses the senior design course, the international service-learning design project, the survey, the results of this survey, and suggested improvements that will extend the benefits of an international service-learning design project beyond those students with direct involvement to their peers.
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It has been well documented that students involved in international servicelearning design projects in engineering receive many educational benefits. This chapter addresses the question of whether or not the benefits gained from international service-learning design projects extend to those students who are not directly involved with these projects but are peers of those who are. To answer this question, graduates of the senior design projects course at Valparaiso University from 2003 to 2011 were surveyed on the course learning objectives, their desire to participate in service-related activities, and their social and cultural awareness. The responses from this survey show that peers of students who experienced an international service- learning design project developed a stronger desire to participate in service-related activities than those alumni who experienced the course prior to the integration of an international service-learning design project into the senior design course sequence. The responses also show that these same peers felt they were more aware of societal issues and other cultures as well. This chapter discusses the senior design course, the international service-learning design project, the survey, the results of this survey, and suggested improvements that will further extend the benefits of an international service-learning design project from those students with direct involvement to their peers.