As with most curriculum efforts, planning and preparation begin the prior year. The Senior Project Handbook was no exception. We whet our appetites in our first attempt, which was to construct a student wiki – a combination of a mini-research project and experiences of the student senior project. This effort, while ending not as hoped, produced much learning. Karen Vagts, Engineering and Business Librarian, Tisch Library and David Grogan, Senior Solutions Specialist, Tufts Technology Services, were invaluable collaborators. Karen worked in excruciating detail with the students on the use of Tisch Library’s research collection and mentored them in their search for authoritative sources. David came to class to teach the students on the web-based authoring tools, working endlessly to help find additional tools to allow for equations and other graphics to successfully represent engineering concepts.

However, we all realized that the articulation and expression element was lacking to some degree. While Tufts ECE students can write, they required some assistance in expressing technical concepts for an engineering writing venue. Writing and communications are required skills for a successful engineering career. We realized that our student’s previous writing proficiency was rooted in humanities and social science assignments and that we needed to provide instruction for technical communications. We are indebted to Kristina Aikens, Associate Director – Writing Resources, Academic Resource Center, to join in our efforts. She ramped up by reviewing the work product from the previous effort and spending time learning about out frustrations. This would prove to be invaluable as we modified the approach during the academic year. Kristina recommended utilizing graduate writing consultants to work with the ECE seniors on their Capstone assignments and Senior Handbook topics. The frontlines were successfully made operational by Jen Agans, PhD candidate, Child Development; Patsy Bailin, MA candidate, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; Casey Diederich, PhD candidate, Biology; Gulfer Goze, PhD candidate, English; Emily Lewis, PhD candidate, Chemistry; Amy Meyer, PhD candidate, Drama; Diego Millan, PhD candidate, English; Jess Pfeffer, PhD candidate, English; and Adam Thomas, PhD candidate, Biology. I cannot thank these writing consultants, student themselves, for their timeless effort, their perseverance through the frustrations and obstacles, and their feedback and suggestions to improve the process and make it not just better, but to actually work as expected.

David Grogan has been invaluable asset to all of us. While providing the technical support for all the computer educations apps, he goes beyond getting “under the hood” of the technology and making the tools all work as they were meant to do to getting them to work as we want them to. He spent countless hours working to understand our goals and objectives, and then proposed solutions that were better than our own conceptions. Further, he worked with us in the trenches to realize the limitations of the existing tools and search for ones that we required. He was always on call, answered our distress signals, and educated us, especially Karen, on the idiosyncrasies of WordPress. I cannot thank him enough.

An extraordinary thank you is for Karen Vagts. She morphed the failed wiki into the Senior Project Handbook that you see here. Karen spent enormous time creating the structure of the handbook, generating the project template and instructions; she mentored and nurtured the students by discussing research topics, assisting them in identifying authoritative sources, and instructing them on utilizing the engineering literature to obtain information. She met with the students at Tisch Library and came to class on many occasions to explain the process. Most important, on her visits to class, she took time to present the relevant context and why this assignment is critical to their engineering career: to know how to find information and to do so quickly and efficiently. This is one aspect of her added value. After all, our goal is to teach our students to learn how to learn and to enable them make an impact on society with innovative technologies and solutions.

I would like to thank the many others who I disrupted from their own work by showing up at their office unannounced and plopping into a chair for an impromptu discussion on one aspect or another about web tools, intellectual property, Tufts University resources, or other helpful advice on how to teach, instruct, improve the project. I would also like to say thank you to Julia Keller, Communications Director; Martin Son, Associate Director for Licensing; Eric Hines, Professor of the Practice, Civil Engineering; Donna Qualters, Director, Center for Enhanced Learning and Teaching; and Sheryl Barnes, Assistant Director ESTS Client Services, Tufts Technology Services. Each of these individuals contributed to my own learning and to those of my ECE seniors. Their time spent was well worthwhile.

Lastly, a very special thank you to two individuals: Jeff Hopwood, Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Past-Chair, who encouraged me to improve the curriculum and took time and energy to listen, ponder, make suggestions for me to ponder, and to continue the discussion in his office, my office, or in the corridor, never making me feel I was imposing on his time; and Eric Miller, Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Chair, who through our conversations has collaborated to make the Capstone project and the class a rewarding and relevant experience for the ECE seniors.

The objective in all this is that this year’s seniors and those that follow will acquire the skills for life-long learning through their Capstone experience. And for the late bloomers like myself, that we have started them along the path to do so, as my teachers did so patiently for me.

Ron Lasser
Professor of the Practice
Tufts University
Medford, Massachusetts, USA
April, 2013