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Professors aims to create collaborative capstone projectsMarch 19, 2018

A big idea to change final year engineering projects promises to bring students together to solve major challenges facing the world.

 Andre Phillion, an associate professor in Materials Science and Engineering, wants to smash walls between different disciplines, encouraging students to work collaboratively on capstone projects, the final major assignment of all engineering programs.

 Phillion has recently been awarded a new position as a McMaster Engineering Faculty Leadership Fellow to realize his goal of creating an optional multidisciplinary capstone design project. The idea would allow students from different engineering disciplines to work together in order to solve an industry-driven engineering problem and communicate their engineering design to industry and the public.

 “By its very nature, engineering is a multidisciplinary profession,” Phillion said. “Whether it be a modern bridge design requiring electronic sensors for life-cycle monitoring or circuit design requiring classical heat transfer to ensure the device remains within its operating range, engineering design is most successful as part of a team effort with a range of expertise.”

McMaster students participating in a multidisciplinary capstone would learn about other disciplines and foster their leadership skills, both of which are desirable skills for future employers, Phillion said.

 “The Faculty Leadership Fellow program provides an opportunity for faculty members to develop and pilot a Big Idea that has transformative implications for any of the education, research and engagement missions of McMaster Engineering,” said Ishwar Puri, McMaster’s Dean of Engineering. “André’s objective to infuse more interdisciplinary and project based learning into engineering education squarely fits that mould.”

Phillion’s plan is to start with five student teams focused on three key areas, including advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence and challenges posed by different technical societies. The new capstone program is expected to launch by Fall 2019.

 “Multidisciplinary collaboration is the reality of engineering in practice,” said Ken Coley, Associate Dean Academic. “At McMaster Engineering we believe strongly in real-world learning and are embedding multiple opportunities in our curriculum. In my view Andre’s plan will create an outstanding culminating experience for our students.”

The Engineering Leadership Fellow program appoints fellows for a one-year term when they work on a project of interest to the Faculty of Engineering and receive leadership and professional mentoring.

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A Big Ideas retreat held by the Faculty in December inspired Phillion’s idea. It is among the first in a series of initiatives designed to foster excellence in engineering education and excellence in recognition of the Faculty’s 60th anniversary.

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