CEE Capstone Partnership

Engineering students from the 2019 CEE capstone class pose with a poster detailing their solution to an engineering challenge.

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 through classroom and work experiences to create effective solutions to real problems.

Invest in their future—and your own.

Sponsoring a Capstone Project with the UW-Madison Civil and Environmental Engineering Department is an exceptional partnership opportunity. As a sponsoring partner, you will acquire innovative assessments and solutions to unique problems by teaming with UW-Madison’s senior engineering students. The project team includes students from Civil, Environmental, and Geological Engineering, supplemented by students from other disciplines as needed for multi-disciplinary project requirements. The entire process is guided by practicing professionals that volunteer to mentor each project team.

Capstone offers sponsoring partners the opportunity to observe potential employees in action. In return, students experience the challenges and rewards of creating and documenting designs based on an actual client’s needs, including the constraints of time and economics.

Your tax-deductible investment is small compared to the benefits you will share with future engineers. The value of this program is demonstrated by the satisfied partners that sponsor Capstone Projects year after year. Shouldn’t you be one of them?

Partnership Program Details

Partners are an integral part of the Capstone Vision.

Strategic partners, from a wide variety of public and private sector entities, are essential to the Capstone project-based learning experience.

Through a cooperative win-win arrangement, these partners furnish “real world” projects that provide students with an open-ended design problem. Project-based learning provides a variety of experiences, significant challenges, and real designer-client interaction for our student teams. Projects come from within a broad set of themes including general building design, transportation design and environmental design, but most often are interdisciplinary in nature.

Capstone partnerships also facilitate interactions between UW faculty, researchers, students, and public and private partners, to address a wide range of design challenges.

We have long-standing relationships with many partners and continue to build relationships with industry and institutional opportunities.

A poster that includes all the logos of UW-Madison Civil and Environmental Engineering Capstone class partners.


Increase collaborations with key business, industry, and agency stakeholders in the broad area of civil and environmental engineering design.

  • Foster collaboration between academic and industry participants
  • Enhance the CEE Badger Engineering student experience
  • Publish technical and non-technical project reports
  • Design net-zero, smart¸ resource-efficient building and site design, materials, and systems
  • Develop innovative design concepts to address environmental challenges
  • Plan and design in ways that support healthy ecosystems

Sponsor Participation

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 projects that meet the design needs of our sponsors, while creating a unique student experience through 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 students, although most projects exceed it. There are no minimum requirements 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 students. This person may or may not be part of the client’s 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 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 identifies 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.


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 sessions.


It is often useful to both the students and 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 from the students prior to the meeting to maximize their benefit. All student teams are asked to make at least one 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. Students are expected to conduct themselves professionally during all contacts with the sponsor. The sponsor should identify any lapses in professional behavior to both the students themselves and 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 is encouraged if it simplifies communication. The use of BOX or DROPBOX is encouraged for the transfer of project-related files.


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 documents in a timely manner for completeness, conformance to needs, and technical correctness. Any sponsor comments and concerns should be communicated to the students for incorporation into the project.

Timely Responses

Students must complete all project work within a single 16-week semester. Responses from the sponsor to requests for information and the review of work products 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 notify both students and mentors of 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 and 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 of 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.

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 benefit to 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 their overall 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.

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 teamwork skills, making them 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 and 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.

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.

Role of the Mentor

The mentor function comprises multiple roles; these include both active and peripheral roles.

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.

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.

Sounding Board – Good mentors are 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 judgment, criticism or ridicule.

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.

Mentors should provide critique and feedback to the students on a regular basis.


  • Help students achieve the goals of the Capstone course
  • Guide students through the course “real world” project process
  • Help students understand that the collaborative process (social relationships and context under which the problem solution is designed) is a normal aspect of the problem itself
  • Hold students accountable to manage their progress
  • Help students improve their soft skills
  • Initially confirm the scope of work, deliverables, and schedule with the student team and the instructors

Specific Mentor Tasks

  • 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 website. 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 Charles Quagliana at Quagliana@wisc.edu

Our Capstone partnerships and design class provide senior engineering students with real-world experience. This video shows a project with the UniverCity Alliance with the city of Monona, Wisconsin, which is just one example of the impact our students are making and the experience they receive as part of this course.