In this work-in-progress study, we investigate the range of reasoning used by five different members of a mechanical engineering capstone design team as they partnered with a veterinarian to design a device for horse lung functioning assessment. Technology for veterinary medicine can be a rich and engaging context for undergraduate design projects. Veterinary technologies offer an appropriate level of complexity and provide a new viewpoint on science concepts that are part of the mechanical engineering canon. Moreover, because veterinarians have both very real technological needs and deep STEM knowledge to help mentor students, they can be ideal capstone design clients.
This study looks specifically at one fourth-year undergraduate engineering team whose capstone design client was a professor of veterinary medicine. The team and veterinarian collaborated to develop and test a working prototype of a portable device to measure horse lung functioning. The central question for this study is: How does the crossover of veterinary medicine and mechanical engineering influence the learning and identity development of fourth-year mechanical engineering students? Taking a qualitative case study approach, we conducted retrospective interviews with the five students three months after their capstone experience had concluded. The goal of the interviews was to explore the influence of the veterinary medicine design context on their understandings of mechanical engineering concepts and their identities as engineers. Drawing from grounded theory methods, we find three major categories of student outcomes from the capstone project: conceptual understanding, practical knowledge, and identity as an engineer. This preliminary analysis shows that the crossover of veterinary medicine and mechanical engineering can be a productive context for capstone projects because they provide an appropriate level of complexity. In this study, we found this project complexity to afford both knowledge development and improved identification with the mechanical engineering profession.
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