Senior Design is an engineering capstone design experience organized by Design Center Colorado (DCC) and completed by all mechanical engineering undergraduate students in their final year of study. The purpose of this course is to simulate an entry-level engineering project in industry, allowing students to apply the knowledge they have acquired in fundamental mechanical engineering courses to a real-world, open-ended design challenge. At the end of the academic year, actual hardware and/or software will be produced and presented to sponsors.
Student teams vary in size depending on the project but are typically made up of five to seven students. Most projects require students to develop skills across disciplines, but some multi-disciplinary teams bring together students with expertise in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science.
Through this process, students also gain valuable connections and are mentored by a dedicated industry professional in addition to a mechanical engineering faculty advisor.
Sections of Senior Design
There are two sections of Senior Design: the industry-sponsored section and the Engineering for Social Innovation (ESI) section. Students select which section they'd like to be part of depending on their unique interests and career goals.
In the industry-sponsored section, student teams are paired with industry clients and faculty directors to design and build a system based on the needs and specifications of a client. Clients range from small companies to large corporations, from individual entrepreneurs to multi-national organizations, and from start-ups to well-established entities. Each team is eligible for a budget of $2,000 for project materials; some companies will supplement these budgets up to tens of thousands of dollars. Student teams are matched with industry sponsors through a bid process where clients are able to evaluate team proposals and rank the teams based on who they most want to work with. If a team receives top ranking from their first choice project, an automatic match is made between that team and project. Otherwise, teams and projects are matched to optimize the placement of student teams with clients and projects. The industry-sponsored section also houses competition teams, including the SAE Baja Vehicle team, among others. Separate applications are required for these teams.
The Engineering for Social Innovation (ESI) section provides an opportunity for students to explore innovation and entrepreneurship in progressing a design from ideation to manufacturing, with projects in this section focused on societal impact. Students will be encouraged to pursue opportunities in design that address issues in developing countries, underprivileged domestic populations, sustainability and the environment. Funding will be provided to each team in the same amount as the industry-funded section of the course. Student teams will be held to the same standards across all sections and are expected to have the same general course outcomes. Projects in this section will end at the same level of completion, although the innovation and entrepreneurship section will start earlier in the design process.
A large-scale exposition at the close of the spring semester celebrates the hard work, countless hours and many achievements of Senior Design and Capstone Design students. With approval from their sponsor, teams present their work to both public audiences and volunteer judges, many of whom are mechanical engineering alumni and industry partners. The video below provides a peek at what it's like to be in attendance at the CU Engineering Projects Expo.
"I have been looking forward to project work on a professional level for my entire undergrad. This course greatly exceeded my expectations for quality of collaboration and teamwork. Potential employers love asking about the project and are very impressed." - Past Senior Design Student
Students in Senior Design experience the design process first-hand, gaining experience in problem definition, determining design requirements, alternative design concepts, engineering analysis, proof-of-concept prototypes, CAD drawings, refinement of a prototype, design optimization, fabrication, testing and evaluation. By the time they complete the course, students will have gained experience in the following areas:
- Understand how to collaboratively work in a team toward a common design
- Become proficient at technical and professional communications (both written and verbal)
- Become proficient at managing long-term projects
- Become proficient at integrating technical skills from courses, independently acquiring project-specific knowledge, and effectively utilizing available resources
- Become proficient in design skills and application of the design process
Senior Design is a two-semester course, taking place over the full academic year with specific course deliverables required during each semester. The student experience requires lectures, training sessions, weekly project meetings and weekly team meetings with their client. Students are expected to spend 10 to 15 hours per week on Senior Design.
"In all cases, your program has delivered excellent value to our company and has provided a rich experience to the students involved. I credit this to something unique in your approach at CU Boulder." - Industry Sponsor
How Sponsors Contribute
What Students Provide
If you are interested in sponsoring a project, contact Alan Goodman.