Bridging learning and the economy
When executives at international plastics maker Toray Plastics (America) needed to boost productivity, they turned to a team of University of Rhode Island engineering students. When global water filtration maker Neptune-Benson required a better filter, it courted engineering students. And when a medical device startup needed help launching a product, it turned to students.
A Selection of Capstone Design Industry Partners
Federal Aviation Administration
GZA GeoEnvironmental Technologies
R.I. Atomic Energy Commission
Stanley Black & Decker
Toray Plastics (America)
During the past four years, students have helped more than a dozen companies through yearlong capstone design projects that start anew each September. The projects provide a win-win, with companies receiving an extra boost in R&D and students receiving real-world experience.
Toray Plastics has rolled out student inventions at its North Kingstown, R.I., plant, helping the company stay competitive and keep jobs in the Ocean State. In the coming months, executives plan to implement a student-designed machine that more efficiently tests the cores that hold rolls of plastic.
“We are not just giving a project for student enjoyment, but we are giving a project which we need in the plant,” Senior Vice President of Engineering Shigeru Osada says.
Osada says that URI engineering students bring a fresh set of eyes to problems. Students can also spend time gathering data and testing concepts – time that plant engineers simply lack. In other cases, the students may tackle a project in its infancy.
Nursing Professor Patricia Burbank wants older adults to exercise more and founded a company, Burbank Industries, to develop devices to monitor activity and encourage exercise. She turned to a group of biomedical engineering students to build a prototype and then work with nursing students to conduct human trials.
The team completed a prototype and the accompanying research paper won an award at the Northeast Bioengineering Conference this year. (See related story) And the project helped team member Harold Greene secure a job.
Shortly after graduating in May 2012 with a degree in biomedical engineering, Greene started interviewing for jobs. He leaned heavily on his capstone project, which he had begun as part of an internship under biomedical engineering Professor Ying Sun.
“If I hadn’t had the project I would have sounded more like a cookie-cutter fresh graduate,” Greene says. “I wouldn’t have stood out as much from the competition.”
Today, Greene works for Electro Standards Laboratories in Cranston, R.I., developing components for a new system to launch fighter jets from aircraft carriers. He turned down offers to work elsewhere and admission to a doctorate program at Baylor University.
It’s no surprise Greene is in such demand. Neptune-Benson CEO Barry Gertz says students working on capstone design projects gain characteristics employers crave.
“The components of the project – the organizational thought, the design criteria, troubleshooting, testing – all of the aspects to take something from concept to completion are certainly an asset for a job candidate,” Gertz says.