It’s no secret that UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering brilliantly mixes academia with application; it’s a place where the theoretical bubble bursts and engineers launch into real-world projects.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the College’s Capstone Projects, a philanthropically-backed program that provides valuable hands-on experience. Undergraduates work together on industry challenges, oftentimes through multidisciplinary means.
“For my senior year, I really wanted to be part of something that was big,” reflects Sarah Conley ’16. “I wanted to be part of something that was really going to make a difference in the world.”
That difference is a big one, and carries with it global implications. Sarah’s team project—the Hyperloop—is a proposed method for high speed travel via capsules that are propelled through steel tubes. The project advanced in the Hyperloop Pod Competition, an initiative led by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
“It’s been amazing,” said Hyperloop Project Manager Celeste Bean ’17. “[W]e had people across different disciplines: mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, physics and economics all working together cohesively to build one 14-foot pod.”
Tyler Susko, lead faculty on the Capstone Projects, couldn’t be happier: “Industry has been telling us for years to do multidisciplinary projects.” The College obligingly listened, and continues to offer synergistic opportunities for its students.
One such partnership with FLIR Systems delivered another chance for multidisciplinary work. The FLIR project, which examined ways to utilize infrared cameras without screens, required intense collaboration between the mechanical and electrical engineering units.
“Periods of weak communication [can lead] to setbacks,” advised FLIR Capstone alumnus Charles McIntosh ’16. “I gained an appreciation for good managers and strong communication.”
Indeed, communication is an asset within the industry and never overlooked among companies looking to hire: “I’m a big fan of the Capstone Projects,” remarked Sonos manager Farhad Mirbod. “It provides great insight into the [student] talent.”
Mirbod ’97, ’03, an alumnus and Manager of Mechanical Engineering Analysis and Technology at Sonos, says multidisciplinary work is vital to teaching students how to work with different types of people. It helps them communicate effectively across the disciplines, which can potentially land them jobs post-graduation.
Not surprisingly, the Capstone Projects have garnered significant attention from alumni and investors alike. Alumnus John Gerngross ECE MS ’82 couldn’t resist the opportunity to get involved: “I go to the Capstone program,” he reflected, “and I see these kids doing their projects. I know that maybe in some small way I helped that, and it makes me feel like I contributed.”
Indeed, Gerngross represents an entire community of leaders who believe in the value of the Capstone Projects.
"This year, we’re celebrating the College of Engineering’s 50th anniversary,” commented Rod Alferness, dean for the College of Engineering. “This is an important milestone because it represents 50 years of academic excellence not only in research, but in innovation leadership. Our Capstone Projects are a critical component to the College’s overall mission to train the engineering leaders of the future, as it provides an important hands-on training opportunity for students to work on real-life industry problems and develop real-world solutions.”