What is a capstone?
Capstone projects are academic year-long experiences for students nearing graduation. Student teams complete a substantial software project that reinforces skills learned through classwork and prepares them to thrive in the next stage of their careers.
This blend of educational and professional experience allows students to prepare for a life in industry and to connect academic concepts with real-world applications.
Student teams make use of the technical and design skills they have developed throughout the Computer Science curriculum to satisfy the sponsor’s objectives.They use standard software engineering practices to scope the problem and identify the best software process model to apply to it. They then develop, test, deploy and document their solution
Students also use professional project management practices to ensure project progress and quality and to experience the workflow of professional software design
Within the framework of the course, all projects are conducted on a best-effort basis by student teams, guided by staff and in close collaboration with the sponsor.
Who are capstone sponsors?
Corporations, small businesses, national laboratories, R&D organizations, non-profit organizations and faculty and staff members of the University of Colorado may become project sponsors.
Who are capstone students?
Capstone projects courses are offered to undergraduate seniors and final-year master's students. Each course is taught separately, so capstone sponsors can indicate which level they deem appropriate for their project.
Benefits to the sponsor
Capstone sponsorship allows an organization to form an in-depth connection with a group of students who are nearing graduation. This relationship can serve as an opportunity to identify future candidates while introducing them to your company goals and culture. Capstone sponsorship serves as a mentorship role, contributing to the professional readiness of our students and instilling good practices as they prepare for a career.
In addition to your team, all students in the capstone course will be exposed to your organization as teams report out their work to the class. This provides excellent visibility, as capstone courses are large, and generates word-of-mouth buzz as students share their experiences throughout the year and at the spring expo.
Suitable project concepts
All project concepts should have a clear purpose with a recognized value to industry or society. They should have specific functional objectives and provide significant design challenges.
Projects must have a level of complexity that is compatible with a six-person team of undergraduate seniors or master's students working on average 6 to 7 hours each for 13 weeks in the fall and 12-14 hours each for 15 weeks in the spring.
Students should be able to explore various design solutions and make choices based on sound engineering reasoning with creative latitude in arriving at a final design and implementation.
Exploratory or proof-of-concept projects can be quite successful as capstone projects.
Projects that are in the customer’s critical path cannot be accepted as capstone projects unless the customer takes full responsibility for the outcome. “Good-to-have” results and “test-of-concept” studies are more likely to be suitable. Although the goal is to make every project a success, the primary purpose of the capstone is educational. The University of Colorado cannot take any responsibility for results deemed by the customer as “insufficient.”
Expectations for Capstone Sponsors
All sponsors are expected to be active participants in their sponsored project. Sponsors should name a Technical Lead for the project who will be able to dedicate at least one hour per week to the project.
Close contact with the team during the early project definition phase is critical for project success. Frequency of sponsor-team interactions will vary according to the software process model being used, and is jointly scheduled by the sponsor and team.
Course instructors are to be CC’d on all team contact.
Sponsors can choose to allow students to retain the IP from their work, or to retain all IP generated for the project,
Unless a project agreement is created based on a contract managed by the University’s Office of Contracts and Grants, all Intellectual Property (IP) rights resulting from the supported senior design project remain with the inventor(s), i.e. the students. All materials, software packages, etc. purchased to support the project will remain the property of the CS Department for possible future use in another project or class.
Participation in the course requires a financial commitment from most sponsors. University of Colorado Community non-profit organizations, and small businesses may apply to the Director of Senior Projects for a donation reduction or exemption.
Option 1: A $7,000 philanthropic donation made payable to the University of Colorado Foundation, to provide support to the University of Colorado Boulder Department of Computer Science Senior Projects. This donation supports the Senior Projects class infrastructure and associated costs (instruction costs , software, computer labs, materials, supplies, disposables, posters, etc.)
Option 2: A $15,000 fee is charged if your organization wishes to retain project related IP. In this case a contract will be created through the University of Colorado Office of Contracts and Grants. Students assigned to these projects will be aware of the requirement to sign over all intellectual property rights to the sponsor.
The Capstone process
With the help of course instructors, sponsors scope a project appropriate for either master’s or undergraduate students and identify a technical lead who can interact with the team. In early September, projects are shared with students, who select their preferences. Instruction staff match students with projects according to preferences and skillsets required by the project.
In the first semester, approximately half of students’ time will be spent on coursework where they study requirements elicitation and analysis, software process models, systems engineering, software configuration management, risk management, team work, software documentation, IP law, and ethics. The remainder of the students’ time is focused on scoping and architecting a design approach to their team project.By the end of the first semester, students and sponsors will come to a written agreement as to the scope of the project and requirements for successful project completion.
Teams continue their work through the spring semester, building, testing, and iterating on their design. At the end of the spring semester, students will present at our College of Engineering Expo, attended by thousands of students, faculty, and sponsors.
Teams give six presentations to the class at various points throughout the year and are subject to three reviews by the Project Review Board. Sponsors are welcome to attend any, or all, of these meetings.
Meet with the team
Meet with the Capstone team as needed to understand sponsorship expectations, discuss project scope, and receive proposal paperwork.
July- August: Submit your project
Prospective sponsors must submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) to propose a project before July 1 for projects starting in the fall of that year. Proposing a project does not mean automatic acceptance by the CS department.
The sponsor should complete the Project Description template with an overview of the project, needed skills, and desired outcomes. This description will be shared with the students of the course for the project matching process.
Early September: Project Team Assignment
A project fair is held, usually the first week of September. Sponsors are expected to participate in the Project Fair. This is a networking event designed for students and sponsors to meet and discuss the sponsors' project proposals.
Mid-September: Project Kickoff
Mid-September: Project Kickoff
Once the teams have been formed, the student team will meet with the corresponding project sponsor in order to gain a deeper understanding of the project, sponsor goals, and confirm that the project, sponsor, and team are a good match. The first task for all teams is to refine their understanding of the project, and the goals of their sponsor, to perform an initial risk evaluation, and identify the best software process model to use as a frame for developing the software.
With these in place, teams will proceed to identify tools and technologies appropriate for the project and work with the sponsor to identify materials that constitute a complete project as appropriate for that specific project and according to the process model being used.
October-December: Project architecting, scoping and planning
Teams design their solution, assign individual roles, and plan their project milestones for the remainder of the cycle. With the guidance of the sponsor, teams present their project design and may begin building. Sponsors are asked to submit feedback to instructional staff that contributes to student grades.
January-April: Implementing, Testing, Iterating
Teams work throughout the spring term to build the design that was prepared during the fall term. Pivots or redesigns may occur with the guidance and permission of the sponsor technical lead. Students document their work, test for efficacy, and make recommendations for further work.
End of April: Culminating Poster Session at College Expo
Teams present their project to the public in the form of a poster/demo presentation during the Computer Science Expo at the end of April. Sponsors are strongly encouraged to attend the Expo.
End of Spring Semester: Team Evaluation
Sponsors are required to complete a team evaluation at the end of the spring semester. The end of semester evaluation forms will be used as the basis for the students’ course grades, and will be adjusted by the instructors according to peer evaluations and instructor observations to produce individual project grades.
Connect with us today!
Considering sponsoring a capstone project? Get in touch with us!
We can help you decide if a sponsorship is right for you and guide you through the process.
Capstone Project Team
For more sponsorship information, please contact:
- Amy Richards
Engagement and Programs Lead
For course-specific questions, contact:
- Alan Paradise, Instructor and Director of Senior Capstone Projects
Office: ECOT 536
430 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309
- Bruce Montgomery, Senior Instructor and Director of Master's Capstone Projects
430 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309