By Elizabeth Myers
Young Ho Park, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Patricia Wojahn, associate professor of English, recently received the best poster award at the first annual National Capstone Design Conference held at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Their poster was titled “A Multidisciplinary Team Approach for Capstone Design Courses: Challenges and Lessons.” The conference, held June 13-15, focused on developing and improving engineering capstone design courses.
The poster focused on four key ways that they have attempted to address areas that surveyed alumni felt needed strengthening in order to meet the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) guidelines and to educate today’s engineer, Wojahn said.
“These included providing more multidisciplinary design team experiences, emphasizing all forms of communication skills, developing a more global perspective of the design process and providing more experience in large-scale project planning and project management,” Wojahn said.
The poster also introduced their innovative approach to creating a multidisciplinary team, joining faculty and students through capstone courses offered by the English department in technical communication, the industrial engineering department and the mechanical engineering department.
“Other programs may have multidisciplinary elements, but they typically involve various disciplines within the field of engineering alone (e.g., computer engineering and electrical engineering). Our program provides engineering experience working with laypeople who have been educated in issues that are more rhetorical and communication-oriented,” Wojahn said.
It also provides English students interested in technical communication with a chance to work with people with technical expertise. “Ideally, students share their strengths as they complete client-based projects for NASA, Boeing, the Department of Energy, and so on.”
Park noted that although there were many challenges involved in bringing together students and faculty from different departments, the rewards overshadowed the difficulties. A recent survey of capstone engineering courses saw an increasing emphasis on communication, teamwork and leadership, Park said. Interdepartmental teams are becoming more frequent as well.
“Our approach is unique in blending engineering with English students and faculty. Many other universities showed interest in our approach and we are confident that we are moving in the right direction,” Park said.