Cultivating these teams requires behind-the-scenes work across the college, with individual students selecting IDC projects when signing up for their capstone course. Gray and his colleagues in the department’s synthesis faculty (of mechanical, electrical and computer, industrial and systems engineering, biomedical, mechanical and materials sciences) then accept students who meet the needs of specific teams in the industry. Competition teams are selected for the IDC based on the best match with instructors and resources.
The course emulates the real structure of engineering, requiring high-level communication and partnership from students of all engineering disciplines, from industry and systems to biomechanics to electrical engineering. , while respecting the milestones of the project.
The IDC format also responds to the vision of Robin Ott, associate professor of mechanical engineering (ME) practice, when discussions for an intercollegiate capstone course began nearly six years ago. As an engineer with 20 years of industry experience, Ott is invested in preparing engineering students for collaborative careers.
“In mechanics, about 85% of students go straight into industry and 15% go on to graduate school,” she said. “As educators, we really need to prepare students. All the companies I’ve worked for have interdisciplinary teams, so we need to expose them to interdisciplinary teamwork.
Whether it’s in the senior ME design courses she teaches — which served as the foundation for IDC’s two-year pilot project that began in fall 2020 — or in IDC itself, Ott considers the connections to industry that students can make through capstone courses such as instrumental exposure.
Queen agrees, pointing to feedback she received from industry partners during the IDC pilot.
“Industry experts have come back and said the course is an invaluable experience for these students while they are in school. They will understand how to do the job that is asked of them when they are hired in the companies and asked to do the same,” Queen said. “Industry partners were also very impressed with the students and the work they were able to produce during the one-year course.”