Philippe Kruchten tests one of the many prototypes on display at the Capstone Celebration
The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department reached out to over 40 organizations and industry partners in September to help enrich the capstone experience of our senior students.
Capstone projects are used in many disciplines as a culminating experience for undergraduates. At ECE, our 200 senior students have been working in small teams to design a product or service of significance for an industry client. Students are eager to apply what they have learned through their degree to real problems, and provide solutions for real people.
Philippe Kruchten, the NSERC Engineering Design Chair, visited universities across the country and around the world to bring home a set of best practices to UBC. He then formed a team of eight professional engineers from the ECE faculty to drive the endeavor. Prof. Kruchten has been dedicated to providing the richest experience possible and to do that he wanted each of the projects to be directed by the needs of external clients.
External clients are important, says Prof. Kruchten, for two main reasons: First, bringing the clients’ needs to the school ensures that the students are working on open-ended problems. The professors, teaching assistants, and clients haven’t already predicted a solution – there is an open field for invention and design here. Professors provide guidance and feedback, but the students must ultimately resolve the problem themselves. As a result, students develop a real sense of responsibility and pride in their work. Second, these projects also have all the messy complications of the real world. There are budget constraints, contract issues, team dynamics to manage, equipment to source – all the complexities that engineers face every day. Bringing in external clients ensures that professors can’t tidy up the project for their students the way they might for an in-class assignment. Capstone teams must face the complexities of project management head-on.
ECE is one of the largest departments at UBC; we had over 45 student groups to be matched with clients. Getting clients for all of our students was a terrific effort that required all of our faculty members to reach out to industry for help. By September, the Department had managed to solicit 97 project requests from 40 clients, allowing students to have quite a bit of choice in what they would be working on this year.
One of the most valuable aspects of the capstone program is that it has strengthened both student and faculty connections with the engineering community of British Columbia. Each of the projects has provided students and faculty with a window onto the needs of engineers in the field. ECE will use what we have learned during this year to identify opportunities to better prepare our graduates for the work force and to continue to improve our curriculum. What we know without a doubt is that our students have benefited greatly from having the opportunity to help their clients.
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