Senior Design uniquely prepares students for engineering careers

12-5-16 As the date for Senior Design presentations approaches, Dr. Czarena Crofcheck, who has taught the course for ten years, took a moment to reflect on the nature of the course as it has developed over the past decade. BAE 402/403 is a two-semester capstone for biosystems engineering students, and it provides an opportunity for students to have a significant engineering design experience. The first semester is devoted to a thorough examination of the problem, the second to developing and building a final product, whether model-size or a prototype. Working in teams, students are supported by Crofcheck, Will Adams, a project advisor, and in some cases, a client. Dr. Crofcheck also involves guest speakers, such as Dr. Purschwitz, who lectures on safety issues.

Because of the individual nature of Senior Design projects, in which each team identifies a problem and engineers a solution, projects pull teams into different areas of focus, which may include drawing, testing, and research, to name a few, but the objective is a consistent design experience. "My goal as the senior design instructor is to maintain the integrity of the design process," Crofcheck said.

Will Adams, PE, who runs the Engineering Design Laboratory, commonly called “the shop,” teaches the students drawing and design. His authority with the hands-on design aspect helps students when they get to those inevitable moments when they struggle with how to proceed with their design. He also brings an important perspective as an instructor, because as a former BAE undergraduate and master's student, he has been through Senior Design himself. "Will and I often end up repeating what the other has said, and that repetition sometimes drives the lesson home," Crofcheck said.

Students have specific milestones, including a project website, which they have to submit throughout the semesters. In addition to engineering design principles and process, they learn about project management, team dynamics, and communication. Senior Design presentations are recorded and posted on the BAE website.

"It's a very collaborative effort. Will and the shop are directly involved at an early stage, and the project advisors focus on helping the team get it done. My focus remains more on the design process, what the students can take away, what they have learned, and how they will synthesize and apply those lessons, that knowledge, to future engineering projects," Crofcheck said. "It's an interesting process, because you can't do it for the students, even when you see a solution. You have to just let them grapple with it."

BAE Senior Design presentations are Tuesday, December 13 at 3:30 in Cameron Williams Auditorium. Two teams will present their final projects, and five will present their first-semester reports.