Capstone projects connect industry and academics

Partnerships between universities and companies can foster powerful ideas. Capstone projects within the Michigan State University College of Engineering allow an opportunity for companies to collaborate and explore the talent Spartans have. The program also lays the foundation for relationships to grow between the companies and the MSU Mobility program and the MSU Innovation Center.

MSU Engineering students participate in the capstone course in their final few semesters of college. It offers them a chance to get exposure to a real life work scenario. They are required to collaborate with other classmates and advisors from the sponsoring company.

The program helps students develop those key communication skills and work ethic needed to succeed in a working environment.

“I see this more as a student’s transition into an industrial work environment,” said MSU mechanical engineering professor, William Resh. “It gives them an environment to think about how all the different pieces of their education come together to complete a particular project.”

The program also offers companies a chance to scout out talent and harvest a relationship with the MSU College of Engineering and the university. Many sponsoring companies go on to hire Spartans and even sponsor future research at the university.

“Sponsoring a capstone at MSU is a unique way for a corporation to interact with undergraduate students and to gain the insights that a small group of motivated students can bring to real world problems,” said MSU Innovation Center director of corporate sponsorships, Brice Nelson. “A capstone project is often a company’s first touch point with MSU but also a hallmark of our most robust corporate partnerships.”

Successful partnerships between the companies and the students can go on to build strong relationships between the company and the university. The capstone program can open doors for future collaborations and sponsorships.

Dr. Laura J. Genik, director of Applied Engineering Capstone projects, mentioned that she, “has great contacts with 75-100 companies,” and having a large network of companies to work with is vital to the success of these projects. Providing a wide range of opportunities from different industries allows for students to gain exposure to companies they may not typically engage with.

During the spring semester in 2021 students collaborated on projects with companies ranging from mobility to sustainability industries.

One group of students worked with American Axle & Manufacturing, an automotive supplier based out of Detroit. The scope of their project focused on minimizing cost of transportation within the United States. By using indicators of shipment weight, transportation mode, and asset utilization, the team was able to identify certain modes of transportation and supplier to consolidate resources being spent on transportation. As a result, they presented AAM options for potential cost saving methods.

“Both sides of the project teams obtain experience in these Capstone projects,” said Raymond Hatfield, director of SCM Transportation and Logistics at AAM. “The students develop new relationships and participate in ‘real world’ business operations which provides experience in driving continuous improvements. The AAM teams gain experience in leadership, educational and training opportunities with the MSU Students.”

Another group of students during the fall 2020 semester worked closely with Volkswagen Group of America, out of Auburn Hills, to assist with the VW Car-Net Electric Vehicle Route Planner.

One of the driving concerns of consumers in the electric vehicle market revolves around the car’s range and lack of charging options when on the road. This application developed by VW mitigates these concerns and allows drivers to customize their routes based on battery charge, route length, and carbon emissions.

Collaborating with the capstone projects has proven to be an ideal way to foster a relationship with MSU.

“Personally, I have volunteered for a few guest speaking engagements at MSU for specific supply chain classes after involvement with Capstone,” said Raymond Hatfield of AAM. “As well, AAM has an ongoing relationship with the MSU Supply Chain Department.”

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