Instilling an understanding of design and the design process is a key aspect of preparing civil engineering students for professional practice. Senior-Level Capstone Design, a Project Based Learning course, immerses students in a “real-world” situation where they work on a major open-ended design challenge in multi-disciplinary teams. Mentors play a key role in this cross-disciplinary learning environment.
Students learn cross-disciplinary design skills through interacting in their design teams and through mentoring relationships. Mentors for this class are industry professionals who devote time to students as coaches and role models within the university setting. Although mentors can fill any number of different roles, all mentors have the same goal in common: to help students achieve their potential and expand their abilities within the “real world” experience of the Capstone class.
Mentoring is both structured and flexible. Mentors are expected to participate in class and work with students teams on Thursday mornings from 7:45 to 9:15. This structured class time is dedicated to mentor-student interactions. This includes both active and peripheral mentoring.
Mentors should have a somewhat flexible schedule. Mentors are encouraged to engage with the student teams and/or individual students in informal communication via the mentor’s office work environment, e-mail or web-based collaborative technology. Mentors should also plan to attend mid-term and final project presentations by their student team.
Mentor feedback and critique are important to the continued success of the course. Instructors welcome feedback at any time. Mentors should plan to attend an end of semester de-briefing session with their student team and instructors.
The mentor function comprises multiple roles; these include both active and peripheral roles.
1. As a guide. Mentors should offer guidance. Guidance is different than leading. Allow discovery, provide feedback, but do not provide all the answers directly. The subject range may be broad and may include areas that the student has little or no experience with. It is valid to provide examples of solutions to similar problems, to provide “rules of thumb” and to explore standard approaches to solving problems. Students may not come to the class with a clear understanding of what it means to function well in a cross-disciplinary team. They may need clarification and support relative to the process and collaboration.
2. As a skills developer.
It is valid for a mentor to sometimes assume a teaching or coaching role around
a particular skill-set, helping the student to learn quickly, in the format and
style appropriate. The solution may require knowledge of material that the
student group has yet to explore in depth in prior coursework. Teaching soft skills
is particularly important for the mid- term and final presentations.
3. As a role model. An effective mentor is invariably accomplished in their organizational role. They are generally admired and respected in their position, and their achievements in that position. Students will often look for a set of habits, approaches, style and skills that the mentor exhibits. The mentor, for example, may bring in professionals from other disciplines to collectively support the student project, illustrating a collaborative approach to multi-disciplinary teams. Students then become aware of how these professionals work and interact with each other.
4. As a sounding board. Good mentors have to be good listeners. They need to foster confidence in the student. Mentors should provide opportunities for their students to articulate and develop ideas without fear of pre-judgment, criticism or ridicule.
5. As an advocate and champion: Good mentors may choose to do more than just interact with their students. They may actively and wisely foster support for the students’ activities within the college setting, influencing and promoting the students’ capabilities and worth.
6. Mentors should provide critique and feedback to the students on a regular basis.
· Help the students achieve the goals of the Capstone course.
· Guide the students through the course “real world” project process.
· Help the students understand that the collaborative process (social relationships and context under which the problem solution is designed) is a normal an aspect of the problem itself.
· Hold the students accountable to manage their progress.
· Help the students improve their soft skills.
· Initially confirm the scope of work, deliverables and schedule with the student team and the instructors.
· Guide students in preparations of proposals and “interview” presentations.
· Guide students in preparation of the Preliminary Report.
· Guide students in the development of plans and specifications.
· Guide students in developing schedule, implementation strategy and opinion of probable costs.
· Guide students in the preparation of mid-term and final presentation to judges.
· Attend end of semester debrief with team.
· Complete an ABET assessment form.
Mentors are expected to review the ABET criteria and prescribed outcomes posted on the class web site. Mentors will be asked to complete an assessment form at the end of the semester to assess if the students are meeting or exceeding these ABET outcomes.
If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact:
Professor of Practice Michael Doran at email@example.com
or Professor of Practice Charles Quagliana at Quagliana@wisc.edu