The Capstone Projects course is certainly one of the most important courses the students experience in our college. In the Mechanical Engineering Department and in the Engineering Technology Department, students are exposed to and demonstrate their abilities listed in most, if not all, ABET student outcomes a-k. Still, in our experience, not all projects provide strong components related to student outcomes h (broad education), j (knowledge of contemporary issues), and especially i (life-long learning). In this context, this work shows some of our experiences in implementing projects originating from the community where our university is located. In particular, this work presents two cases: (i) one project based on the idea proposed by a local inventor related to power production and (ii) one project to satisfy the need of an elderly resident to move larger items with his pick-up truck. In both cases the clients have no engineering background, but they are confronted with problems that can be solved through engineering design.
As opposed to other projects, such as related to people with physical disabilities or projects with the local industrial partners, in these cases the clients were very involved in the design process, although not as engineers.
By working on such projects, our students were able to interact with and learn from people of different backgrounds; this interaction, while not always easy, benefitted both our students and our clients. They were also able to see firsthand the positive impact their work can have on people’s lives: transforming a dreamed idea into a physical prototype, and helping a community member with his activity. Finally, by directly interacting with people who continue to propose new ideas and have active lives, with new problems, even after retirement, our students experienced the importance of life-long learning and intellectual curiosity have on people’s lives.
Our experience has been largely positive and we plan to expand our capstone project list to include more such projects.
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