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EED capstone design program serves as bridge between academia and industry

Since 2009, the Multidisciplinary Engineering Capstone Design Program has brought together teams of seniors to solve real-life problems for industry partners. 

The program benefits all stakeholders:

  • ŸStudents make industry contacts and gain valuable design experience working to solve complex, real-world problems
  • ŸIndustry partners get recognition and solutions to projects; they also stay in touch with the “pipeline” of perspective employees
  • ŸThe EED stays connected to industry, which allows it to keep pace with business and technological trends; the multidisciplinary nature of the program—it involves students and faculty from different disciplines—also allows EED to stay connected with various other departments within the College of Engineering.

View of poster displays at 2015 capstoneA view of the 2015 Multidisciplinary Engineering Capstone Design Showcase, the culmination of the capstone program.

The roots of the program go back to the Mechanical Engineering Department, which first started connecting teams of its senior students with industry partners to solve real-life problems.  The EED (known as EEIC at the time) offered its first Multidisciplinary Engineering Capstone Design Program in 2009.

Bob Rhoads, Director of the Capstone Program, has a rather multidisciplinary background himself; he earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Ohio State and an M.B.A. from Regis University. After graduating from Ohio State, he went into the glass manufacturing industry, where he worked in a number of different roles over 12 years (design engineering, process engineering, sales and support for engineering).

After that, Rhoads wanted to work with students, so he got a job teaching at a community college in Zanesville, Ohio; while there, he pioneered a “Pathways to Engineering” program, which allowed high school juniors and seniors to take college courses to graduate with a high school diploma while earning an associate’s degree in technology.  His main goal, he says, was to get students excited about engineering, but he also learned a lot about teaching teamwork when guiding students with various degrees of life experience.  

After three years at Zane State, Rhoads returned to Ohio State and began working on the capstone program in the Mechanical Engineering Department; when it transitioned to the EEIC, he followed, and has been happily heading the program ever since.

About the Capstone Courses

The Multidisciplinary Capstone Program is a two-course sequence for students in their last year of undergraduate work.  It is open to all engineering students, and also to non-engineering students enrolled in the Engineering Sciences minor.  To join, students must apply for admission and fill out a survey designed to help identify their skill sets.

Those who are admitted are carefully screened, and, based on their skills sets, assigned to teams of 4-6 students who will spend a year working together.  Student team with their design and poster.2015 Student team with their design and poster.

The specific problem a student works with depends on which of the three tracks of instruction he or she chooses:

1. Industry-Sponsored Projects

This is the largest track, in which students work directly with sponsors, visiting their facilities and meeting with company liaisons.  Industry sponsors are carefully vetted, and include a range from smaller local businesses to large global companies.

Within this track, projects fall into two sub-categories:

ŸProcess and Equipment Design

One example of a company students might work with is Arcelor Mittal, a major sponsor. Projects with ArcelorMittal have focused on streamlining processes for and reducing waste in steel production.  John Deere is another long-time sponsor. Students have completed many projects related to optimizing the drive train in tractors to improve efficiency and reduce power loss.

ŸProduct Design

Students in this track help companies develop and design actual products that will go to market, such as this the tube Feeding Infusing Pump developed for Vesco Medical.


2. Social Innovation and Commercialization Projects

This track is a collaboration between non-profit organizations and several colleges including the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Business, & Applied Medicine. lt is currently sponsored by the College of Engineering and the Tony R. Wells Foundation with a goal to become self-sustaining through commercialization of products designed for people with disabilities. One recent project was the development of a time-management system for children with developmental disabilities.

3. Humanitarian Projects 

Projects in this track are funded by philanthropic organizations and aim to develop products and business models to meet the basic needs of people in developing nations.  Students partner with local and in-country organizations throughout the design process to create a solution that can be implemented in the community. Projects in this track have included solutions for sustainable housing in Honduras and a sustainable closed-loop system of food production involving growing vegetables and farming fish.

Professional Skills Learned

Students tend be motivated and engaged by the opportunity to develop solutions to problems that will be implemented in the real world.  And, no matter which track they choose, they will all be trained in a set of skills common to the program, including professional etiquette, problem-solving, project management, communications, and teamwork. 

The program itself has a philosophy of continuous quality improvement. Just as students are taught to continually test and refine what they design, the program is continually assessed (by current students, industry sponsors, and OSU alumni) and optimized based on the feedback.

Capstone projects list from 2008 to present.

For More Information, contact Bob Rhoads, Program Director