Why I’m glad capstone is over

Multidisciplinary Capstone Design is a course where students across many majors take part in a semester-long project. It sounds like it has the potential to be a great resume booster for those lacking experience elsewhere, but some things are better in theory than in practice.

The semester before I took capstone, I attended an informational meeting where we were asked to fill out a form about our interests and skills. If there was one thing made clear, it was that I did not want to be part of a software-based project. As an industrial engineering major, I am not interested in computer science and lack coding skills. It’s a subject that just doesn’t click with me.

Before the fall semester started, I received an email explaining my capstone project. The deliverables were to “create a development environment” and “design and build the application” for a blockchain related business use case we developed. This was exactly what I didn’t ask for. Frustrated, I decided to forget about it until classes started.

The project description stated that a group of seven to nine students would be suitable, with six to eight computer systems students and two to three industrial engineering students. My capstone group originally had three computer systems students and three industrial engineering students, already short of the total. On the first day of class, only four of us showed up, with only one of us being a computer systems student and the rest being industrial engineers. The group stayed that size for the entire semester despite rumors of efforts to recruit more.

Since our project was lacking computer science students, we were expected to pick up coding languages that we wouldn’t have had to learn with otherwise. As someone with a beginner’s experience in only Visual Basic and Python, I did not want to devote my time to learning seemingly unintuitive languages for a very specific type of application on top of all of my other coursework.

Some capstone projects span over the course of many semesters, and since this was the first semester of the project, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I think this contributed to the fact that our professors would spend way too much time every class period hovering over us, which kept us from being productive. None of us could ever find a kind way to ask them to leave us alone.

I struggled to make significant contributions during the entire project due to my lack of technical skills. Not only was I personally having a hard time understanding the content, but it seemed that the professors were having trouble as well. It concerned me that the people who would be determining my grade didn’t seem to fully understand the concepts behind my project. I constantly felt disappointment and judgement because I could not wrap my head around what I could do to help make progress for the team, and I often felt singled out by professors’ comments because of it.

Early on, I stopped caring about the grade I would get in this course or what my professors thought of me, as long as I passed. After receiving two full-time job offers this semester, I didn’t need my capstone project to boost my resume. I can definitely acknowledge where I fell short and most certainly didn’t deserve an A when the majority of my contributions were project management.

I find that this is a problem among industrial engineering students. We struggle in interdisciplinary projects and become the de facto project manager. Industrial engineers should be analyzing a manufacturing process, a supply chain, a facility layout, an inventory plan, or even ergonomics, not coding an application or building a prototype. I believe that a solely industrial engineering capstone course would be appropriate to consider.

Multidisciplinary Capstone Design is a good idea in concept, but it certainly did not make me feel any more or less prepared for the real world. In my fourth year at Rensselaer, I have already received all the teamwork experience I could need. I’m not sure that others will have luck as bad as mine with this course, but I am sure that you’ll be scolded for 15 weeks straight about updating your Gantt Chart.