University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering

CEE Capstone Partnership

Senior “Capstone” Design is a required course for all civil and environmental engineers at UW-Madison.

With the guidance of professional mentors, students use the knowledge and interpersonal skills they have gained in their classwork and work experiences to create effective solutions to real problems.


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Michael D. Doran, P.E. DEE
Professor of Practice
1218 Engineering Hall
1415 Engineering Dr
Madison, WI 53706

Charlie Quagliana, AIA, NCARB
Professor of Practice
1218 Engineering Hall
1415 Engineering Dr
Madison, WI 53706

How it works

How it works

Sponsor Participation Information 


The UW-Madison Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Capstone Partnership is a cooperative arrangement among groups and institutions that develops and fosters strategic partnerships to explore engineering design challenges. The core purpose of the partnership is to organize and implement specific student projects meeting the design needs of sponsors while providing for a unique student experience and real-world challenges.


Capstone Projects

The typical Capstone project addresses a range of design challenges for sponsors; regional businesses, government enterprises and institutions. The project represents a commitment for both the students and the sponsors or clients. There is a minimum required time commitment for the students, although most projects exceed the minimum requirement. There is no minimum requirements mandated for the project client, but most clients appreciate some indication of the University’s expectations for a typical project.

Project Liaison: The best outcomes are achieved when the sponsor designates one of their employees as the principal contact for the students. This person may or may not be part of the client technical staff, and they may or may not be the most frequent client contact. The Project Liaison is intended to be the gatekeeper, and additional contacts within the sponsor organization should be at the direction and with the permission of the Project Liaison. Similarly, each project has a designated student team leader and contacts initiated by the students will be at the discretion of the team leader.


Statement of Objectives: At the outset of each project the student team is given a Request for Proposal (RFP). The RFP is typically prepared several months in advance through a joint effort of the instructional team, sponsor and mentors. This RFP is the basis of the entire semester’s work, so it is important that it clearly and completely identify the sponsor’s objectives and significant client concerns. It is important for the sponsor to review and approve the RFP before the beginning of the semester.


Classes: The Capstone classes are held Tuesday and Thursday from 7:45 AM to 9:15 AM. Most student team break-out sessions with mentors and sponsors are conducted on Thursdays. The sponsor’s staff is welcome to attend any or all of these classes or break-out session.


Meetings: It is often useful to both the students and the sponsor to meet face to face to discuss the project, particularly in the early stages. However, many projects have constraints on face to face meetings dictated by distance or sponsor availability. Occurrence and scheduling of meetings, if any, is solely at the discretion of the sponsor. If meetings occur it is highly recommended that the sponsor request agendas be provided by the students prior to the meeting to maximize their benefit. All student teams are asked to make at least on visit to the project site at the beginning of the semester.


 The Capstone class is a transition from the demands of engineering education to the demands of engineering practice. The students are expected to conduct themselves professionally in all contact with the sponsor. The sponsor should identify any lapses in professional behavior to both the students themselves and to the mentor. In return, students have an expectation of being treated as professionals by the sponsor. The sponsor should treat students with the respect and courtesy that would be extended to any other professional engaged by the sponsor. 


Contact Information: Student time commitments may make contact by phone difficult during normal business hours. Mentors are practicing professionals, and contact with them may also be difficult. Email is often the most efficient method of contact. The sponsor should provide email addresses of all contacts to the students. Exchange of telephone information is not required but it is encouraged if this simplifies communications. The use of BOX or DROPBOX is encouraged for the transfer of project related files.


Reviews: The students will provide the sponsor with a proposal in response to the RFP, a preliminary engineering report identifying the solutions considered and recommended, and a final report documenting the design. The sponsor is expected to review these three documents in a timely manner for completeness, conformance to needs, and technical correctness. The sponsor comments and concerns should be communicated to the students so they might be incorporated into the project.


Timely Responses: The students must complete all project work within a single 16 week semester. Responses by the sponsor to requests for information and review of work products sent the sponsor are expected to be timely. If, for whatever reason, a timely response is not possible the sponsor is expected to notify the students of the expected delay.


Observing Presentations: In addition to the documents for review, each student group is expected to make two presentations (preliminary design and final design) to a group of judges, guests and mentors. Sponsor attendance at these presentations is strongly encouraged. Arrangements for broadcast of the presentations to off campus locations can be made.


 Some information requested by the students may be considered proprietary or confidential by the sponsor. The sponsor is expected to remember that public presentation of the work product is part of the Capstone class. The sponsor may refuse any request for information that is considered confidential, with the understanding that this may impact the student group’s ability to meet client objectives. The sponsor is expected to identify to both the students and mentors any information that is to be restricted or withheld from the general public.


Use of Results: Student project designs, reports, and other work products are not the product of licensed professionals and are not a substitute for professional services. The sponsor must not initiate construction or otherwise implement the designs or report results without thorough review by the appropriate experienced professionals. The sponsor must read and accept the limitations identified in the disclaimers stated on Capstone documents.


Impact on Students: The Capstone experience has proven to be very influential in the professional development of Civil & Environmental Engineering students. A major part of this experience is exposing the students to working professionals solving real world problems. The primary purpose of the Capstone project is educational. Consideration of student growth should be part of all interactions between the sponsors and the students.


Financial Support: Sponsors are asked to support the Capstone Course with a donation. These funds come to the Capstone Partnership for unrestricted use and support the core goals of the Partnership’s efforts; to foster collaborative work between academic and industry participants through the Capstone class. This funding typically supports the course relative to student team travel, site visits, instructional costs, publication and presentations. 


Project Selection Guide


Projects for the Capstone course are selected approximately 4-6 months in advance of the semester. Proposed projects are advanced through a screening process to evaluate the potential to benefit both the industry sponsor and the students. Highly ranked projects have a willing client, funding, clearly defined scope, specific time frame, program and budget. The final scope of work is generally jointly developed by the project sponsor, the instructional team and the mentors.



The Projects that are assigned to student teams at the beginning of the semester have a major influence on the total semester experience. It is therefore very important that appropriate care and thought go into class project selections. The scope of these projects has to be consistent with the capabilities of the students and the length of the academic semesters, yet broad enough to be consistent with the goals and objectives of the industry sponsor. 


The scale of the project is the most important aspect relative to success. Projects that have not worked well in the past have been either too large or too small. The course seeks “Goldilocks” projects, sized just right. Projects that are too small often lack substance or significant issues to explore. This limits the team’s ability to develop a full comprehensive project.


Large projects often are difficult or too complex for a group to address all the important issues in the class time allotted and results in doing multiple tasks with none being done well.


Beyond the scale of the project, diversity of project issues is also important for the learning experience. As is the case in the real world, project teams need to consider engineering and non-engineering issues within the scope of their work.  As the project is developed from beginning to end, students should be exposed to many non-engineering issues to reflect real life situations. These issues include: legal, financial, political, environmental, social, scheduling, construction phasing, future expansion, and many others.  The key point is this: real world projects are not just about engineering design.


Appropriate projects should present multiple design challenges for the team, especially related to investigating and presenting options or alternatives to the client.  For example, the project design may generate multiple layouts, provide optional selections of materials and develop several phasing alternatives for construction. These kinds of challenges provide the team an opportunity to show a depth of design thought. 


Student Project Documents

Instilling an understanding of design and the design process are key aspects of preparing civil engineering students for professional practice.  Capstone Design student projects allow students to implement their ideas, gain practical experience in project design and enhance their leadership and team working skills. These Capstone student projects are an integral part of the learning process. 


The work products produced by the students are part of the student experience and are for teaching purposes only. These work products are ideas, not problem solutions. The Capstone Partnership is not providing engineering consulting services or any other services to the sponsor.




The capstone Partnership reserves the right to publish information about any program or collaboration that it endorses at its own discretion.


The concepts, drawings and written materials provided here were prepared by students in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin- Madison as an activity in the Capstone Design course CEE 578. These do not represent the work products of licensed engineers and are not a substitute for professional services. These are not for construction purposes.