Over the past several years there has been a strong push by many higher education institutions to graduate more entrepreneurial engineers. As the results, in year 2010 the Electrical Engineering program at xxx University decided to restructure its capstone project to provide a synergic experience for its EE students and better prepare them for the workforce. Our main approach in restructuring the course was to integrate the real world start-up discovery process for our EE students in which the students are encouraged to utilize their skills to address real problems, and to create innovative solutions that have demonstrated potential for commercialization.
The capstone course reconstruction included several key modifications and requirements: (1) the single semester capstone course is now two courses, offered in Fall and Spring semesters; (2) each student project proposal must attempt to solve an open-ended real problem for a particular consumer-base; (3) the student design team is responsible for conducting market surveys that evaluate the market needs and for writing a funding proposal to justify their product proposal; (4) each team is required to search for an industry advisor and a professional client and to hire, train, and mentor at least one freshman EE student; (5) as part of the final product documentation, each team is expected to provide a brief user manual describing how the product can be used, and steps to troubleshoot common potential problems.
Our goal in restructuring the capstone project was to align the capstone with entrepreneurial experiences to assist students to see how their EE skills are transformed into relevance as well as to learn what it takes to have their own startup venture, or generate viable products for an existing organization with a mission. Clearly, to meet such a goal, the role of the participating faculty (advisors) had to shift away from a structured lecturer to a flexible facilitator; assisting students in their challenge to evolve a concept to a fully functional & market-relevant product over 9 months. Furthermore, in order to define the project requirements and its customer base, the students in the course must interact with faculty from different disciplines such as the Business Department for the entrepreneurial expertise and other disciplines that impact the relevance of their proposed product.
In this paper we elaborate on our experience in taking an entrepreneurial approach in restructuring the Capstone course in the EE program. We point out our challenges, including faculty entrepreneurial and industry experience, and adhering to ABET standards, as well as community support and institutional limitations. We also provide the data obtained from our graduates and elaborate on their concerns, particularly, those with fewer professional connections and less strong academic background.
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