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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Project: Village Stormwater Mitigation

NCEES Engineering Education Award $10,000 winner

Participants:

Students: Josie Emerson, Ryan Deyoe, Alexander Enger, and Jack Barczak

Faculty: Jan Kucher, Charles Quagliana, and Greg Harrington

Professional Engineers: Jo Tucker, P.E., Jay Kemp, P.E., Mark Oleinik, P.E.,  Jan Kucher, P.E., Robert Hackel, P.E., and Tim Schleeper, P.E.

Faculty member
Jan C. Kucher, P.E.
Adjunct professor
University of Wisconsin – Madison

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

Real-word projects provide a valuable connection between the academic world that students are familiar with and the world of a practicing engineer. Solutions are definitive in engineering, science, and mathematics classes, but in professional practice there are many possible and correct solutions. Capstone projects, like this one, are designed to simulate actual project constraints, management, and coordination for multiple-person teams in which the professional engineer weighs alternatives to help the client select the best solution for the situation.

How do you decide which projects to work on?

The capstone instructional team contacts potential project clients for actual projects with industry, municipalities, or private entities. The clients are typically outside of the university system and have experience engaging with professional engineers to complete projects. These clients remain engaged throughout the entirety of the capstone project, providing input to the student teams.

Each project is configured to result in a construction project that requires the development of a construction contract, technical specifications, and a drawing set. Moreover, all projects must include analysis grounded in four out of the following eight civil engineering disciplines:

  • Construction engineering
  • Environmental engineering
  • Geotechnical engineering
  • Hydraulic engineering
  • Hydrologic/storm water engineering
  • Structural engineering and building design
  • Transportation engineering
  • Surveying and geospatial engineering

New projects are created each semester, and projects are typically located within a 1 – 2 hour drive from Madison, Wisconsin, such that the teams can visit the site and meet with the client.

How did this project prepare students for professional practice?

This project allowed the student team (as lead by the project manager) to meet with the client to discuss and clarify the scope and budget. It allowed for the experience of scope evolution and to stay flexible to changing client wishes. The students are introduced to the need for clear and concise communication with the team, mentors, and client. The project team interacted with two professional engineers every week who guided them during the design process and provided feedback on draft deliverables (this introduced the need for quality control and peer review of outputs). Students presented preliminary and final design concepts to the client and a team of judges, which provided an additional level of professional interaction and collaboration.

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

The capstone project format can be modified for most engineering disciplines outside of civil engineering. It provides a transition to introduce the challenges of working as a professional engineer, accommodating clients, project management, budget management, time management, public input, and regulators to meet the client’s schedule, scope, and budget. It is essential to have experienced and seasoned mentors that are able to volunteer their time to guide the students.  Moreover, mentors need to have experience in a variety of projects, working with several engineering disciplines, and be familiar with project and team coordination. The lead professor and instructional team should also be professional engineers with on-the-job experience.