Capstones cultivate high-tech opportunities for students and industry

by Aug 31, 2020Latest news

Since its inception eight years ago, the engineering capstone program at The Polytechnic School has made an indelible impression on its graduating seniors, alumni, sponsors and the Valley of the Sun as a whole. A pillar of the school’s engineering curriculum, it has become a rite of passage for seniors as they transition into engineering professionals.

Sponsored capstone projects, or eProjects, give students the opportunity to develop new solutions or improve upon existing engineering solutions based on their industry sponsor’s needs. Backed by engineering faculty and sponsor mentorship, students use the knowledge and skills they’ve learned throughout their undergraduate experience to execute their project. The result directly reflects on their grade and if they graduate. Industry sponsors use the eProject process to gain outside-of-the-box engineering solutions, intellectual property to implement into their company’s operations and as a recruitment tool.

Honeywell Aerospace, one of the valley’s cornerstone aerospace and defense organizations, has sponsored up to eight projects every year for the last several years and has hired many seniors along the way.

“The program is very hands-on and team-based, which aligns well with the real-world business challenges that our young engineers face, so they arrive poised to contribute on day one,” says Rich Barlow, a recently retired senior director for Honeywell and prior industry advisory board chair with The Polytechnic School. “The valley and southern Arizona businesses have really benefited from the quick contributions that these students have provided to their employers. It’s been a win-win!”

EProjects are effective because they mutually benefit the student and the sponsor in various ways. However, the school’s deep-rooted corporate partnerships coupled with a technology-heavy regional advantage and proven track record make the program even more impactful for everyone involved. More than 75 companies have sponsored The Polytechnic School capstone projects since the program launched, and, on average, more than 98% of projects are sponsored each capstone sequence.

Two students demonstrating their capstone project at the fall 2019 Innovation Showcase.

An information technology senior sharing her poster at the spring 2018 Innovation Showcase.

Two aviation students demonstrating their capstone project at the spring 2019 Innovation Showcase.

A Ping-sponsored capstone project called the Range Roamer on display at the fall 2019 Innovation Showcase.

Newcomer Summit Automation sponsored four teams last year and anticipates a long and fruitful future with The Polytechnic School’s engineering capstone program. CEO Patrick Gruetzmacher recently hired three students based on the high level of work they contributed to their eProject.

“The students I hired are awesome — simple as that,” Gruetzmacher says. “The way this program is managed is well thought out. My students figured out a way to think outside of the box, work around barriers and complete the project successfully, which speaks volumes for the engineering department at The Polytechnic School.”

Collins Aerospace has sponsored various projects over the past few years and find immense value in the coaching aspect of the program.

“Our Collins engineers have assigned real problems to the student related to our products and have helped the students refine and build upon their ideas throughout each semester, giving us the opportunity to mentor and develop the next generation of engineers,” says Rebecca Stoner, The Polytechnic School engineering industry advisory board member and Collins Aerospace senior director of engineering.

Engineering Professor and undergraduate Program Chair John Rajadas says, “Year after year, it’s amazing to witness the switch from student to professional. The program equips students with the experience to join the industry with cutting edge skills, a multi-disciplinary outlook and, above all, the aptitude and confidence to work in a professional environment.”

Mechanical engineering alumnus Alexander Razman is now a manufacturing engineer at Lockheed Martin, the company that sponsored his capstone project.

“Capstone was one of the few classes that allowed me to experience how to properly interact with a stakeholder,” he says. “It bridged the gap between an educational setting and an industry environment.”

Northrop Grumman Systems Engineer and engineering alumnus Aaron Dolgin remembers his capstone project fondly because it was one of the most comprehensive capstone projects in The Polytechnic School history.

“Managing a capstone project gave me the tools I needed to succeed in my industry roles,” he says. “It will be a project I remember forever.”

Tim Beatty has been the associate director of the business engagement catalyst at The Polytechnic School for two years after a more than 35-year industry career.

“When industry partners challenge and guide our seniors through real-world engineering demands and share their experience and wisdom along the way, it encourages students to dissect and understand the issue at hand and develop a solution that is driven by a real value proposition,” Beatty says. “It helps transition our students into contributing industry professionals — the engineers of tomorrow — and there is nothing more important than that in today’s world.”