Three days into the academic year, the class of 2023 filled the Student Union Memorial Center’s largest ballroom with activity and anticipation. Each student spoke with sponsor representatives to determine which Interdisciplinary Capstone project they will spend their final year working on.
“It’s probably the biggest deal of my whole college career,” said mechanical engineering senior Tyler Kral.
Kral and fellow mechanical engineering student Ira Stokes were looking forward to expanding their knowledge by working with students from other majors. They even wanted to explore projects that might be a little unusual for mechanical engineers, including at least one with a biomedical focus.
“A lot of the projects would require me to stretch outside my own realm and try something new,” said Stokes.
Stokes was learning about a wide variety of projects before voting for his top choices. This year’s opportunities are plentiful, according to Craig M. Berge Design Program Director Larry Head.
“We have strong support from industry this year. It’s an exciting mix of different kinds of projects,” he said.
Of 72 total projects, 54 are sponsored by external companies. These industry sponsors range from international businesses with thousands of staff members to small startups, such as new sponsor LED Dental Wellness. The company’s founder, Judee Macias-Harris, invented the LightBrush, a water-free oral cleaning device for people and pets. She and her business partner, Shoshi Almog, are sponsoring a capstone project in order to develop the next generation of the LIghtBrush for vulnerable populations.
“This really accelerates something that may have taken us years,” said Almog. “It brings Judee’s vision to fruition.”
Longtime sponsor Ball Aerospace is tasking a team with developing an optical scatterometer, which measures how light bounces off surfaces and is critical for the design of optical systems. In addition to the value of the project, the capstone program allows the company to maintain connections with the University of Arizona, said Ball representatives Benjamin Cromey and Ian Carr. Both are also optical sciences and engineering alums.
Cromey enjoyed teaching the course when he was completing his doctoral degree. And the program is a recruiting tool for Ball, said Carr.
“We had someone from my team last year who was an intern, then we extended a full-time offer,” he said.
Continually Improving the Program
New for this year, students who take courses online will join Interdisciplinary Capstone teams. This is possible through a flipped classroom model in which students will view video lectures on their own, then spend class time working as teams with mentors.
Last year, Head and the program’s lead instructor, Steve Larimore, introduced changes primarily centered around ensuring students meet specific milestones earlier in the process. That emphasis remains in place, with a new focus on each team identifying and producing a Minimum Viable Product by the end of the academic year. For example, with the LED Dental Wellness team, the light is the most important design element. So if the students build a housing with no light, they haven’t created a Minimum Viable Product.
This industry concept will help keep students on track and prepare them to work on professional projects, said Larimore.