Seattle University

NCEES Engineering Education Award $10,000 winner

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Project: Traffic and Safety Improvement at a Busy T-Intersection


Students: Tyler Lam, Allyssa Manlapaz, Camryn Okada, Dorin Russu, and Andre Shigetomi

Faculty: Mark Siegenthaler P.E., P.L.S.., and Nirmala Gnanapragasam Ph.D., P.E.

What value does a real-world project bring to students?

Engineering is a practice-base profession so real-world experience is not only an option but a requirement. Our capstone projects bridge the gap between theory and practice for our students and prepare them to enter the workforce with the necessary technical and professional skills to be successful in their future career. Students learn to apply the knowledge gained in their courses to solve a real-world problem, learn to work as a team, interact with clients and manage schedules and budget.

How do you decide what projects to work on?

We decide on projects that are both challenging and realistic for completion in one academic year. We do this in partnership with a strong industry network we have developed over the past 35 years. These are industry folks who know our curriculum and our student skills so they are fully aware of the quality of products they can expect. New sponsors are also brought to us through our alumni network. We also look for supportive sponsors who are willing to mentor our students and support the faculty advisor. We also survey our juniors to find out their areas of interests so that we could get a broad range of projects covering student interests.

How did this project prepare students for professional practice?

Students learned to translate the client’s vision into a functional design that met the operational requirements of the project. They were exposed to the multidisciplinary nature of engineering projects. The students learned how to interact with a client, work as a team, manage their time and budget. As we slowly ease out of the pandemic, employers prefer junior engineers with experience of working in a hybrid environment. This project prepared the students well for the future work environment. In addition, this project made the students aware of engineers’ ethical and social responsibility and it provided a great opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to improve the health, safety and welfare of the public.

What advice do you have for other programs wanting to add similar collaborative projects to their curriculum?

We recommend to network with local private and private agencies as the first step to establish a capstone program. Make sure to explain the benefits they could reap from sponsoring these projects and partner with them to brain storm ideas.

Project ideas:

  • Sponsor’s “backburners” are always good perspectives because they don’t have the human power or time to do them, but the findings could benefit the sponsor in the long run.
  • They might be projects that with some legwork could get local/state/federal funding for actual implementation. For example, we worked on a project on bridge replacement for a county and eventually the county used the student product to obtain state funding.
  • Our biggest supporters are our alumni – once they start working, they appreciate the benefits of the capstone experience and want to give back to the program by sponsoring a project, being mentors/technical resources to students and serving as advisors to teams.

Benefits to sponsors:

  • It is an opportunity for the sponsors to train the next generation of engineers
  • Some sponsors are naturally inclined to be mentors and enjoy the opportunity to interact and teach students
  • The project gives the sponsor an opportunity to observe the students over a period of time (as if they were interns) and hire them once they graduate.
  • Junior engineers could develop their project management skills by serving as mentors to these student teams.