Sponsoring a Senior Project

Mechanical Engineering and Interdisciplinary Projects

Cal Poly has long been known for its learn-by-doing approach.  The senior project has been a capstone of the undergraduate experience throughout Cal Poly's history.  That tradition continues through today in the Mechanical Engineering department.

The Senior Design Project is a 3-quarter, team-based experience where students design, build and test a solution to an externally supplied problem. This format allows students to develop team work and communication skills needed for today's workplace, as well as gain valuable experience working with industry partners.  Using student teams also allows us to form multidisciplinary teams with students from other departments or colleges.  Interdisciplinary projects are highly encouraged!

The senior project sequence is offered Fall/Winter/Spring and Winter/Spring/Fall quarters.  Student teams are formed in the first two weeks of the first quarter and stay together for the entire project.  The first quarter has the students conceptualizing, performing feasibility studies and ultimately deciding on a design direction.  It culminates in a formal Concept Design Review. During the second quarter, students complete the detailed design, hold a formal Critical Design Review to get the sponsor’s approval to build, and start building their prototype.  The third quarter is used to complete the build and test the prototype.  A Final Report and Design Exposition are presented at the end of the course sequence.  Throughout the year each student team has a faculty advisor who meets with them on a weekly basis guiding them on their project.  For the technical specifics, the students work with their industry contact.

This enriching experience is a unique opportunity to get involved with Cal Poly engineering seniors and to understand firsthand what makes Cal Poly students stand out among other applicants when it comes to their employment.

What constitutes a good senior project?

If you are curious about what constitutes a good project, or what results you can expect to se if you sponsor a project, take a look at the final reports from past Senior Projects online at the Cal Poly Digital Commons website.  (Note that if you prefer for your project to remain confidential for three years after the project, that can also be arranged.)

Also keep in mind that we want the students to design, build, and test their project. A project that is purely a paper design is not appropriate for the senior project. However, for more complicated builds, it is acceptable for the sponsor to provide advanced machining or fabrication for the students.

Another good way to see if your project would be a good fit is to look at our course learning outcomes:

  • Understand Design as a process and apply this process to solve an open-ended, externally supplied engineering design problem.
  • Work effectively on an engineering team.
  • Develop, analyze and maintain an engineering project schedule using a Gantt chart and appropriate software.
  • Use Quality Function Deployment (QFD) to evaluate customer requirements
  • Formally define an engineering problem.
  • Generate a specification document.
  • Apply creative techniques to develop conceptual solutions.
  • Apply structured decision schemes to select appropriate engineering concepts in a team environment.
  • Design subsystems within constraints of strength, size, materials, performance, cyclic loading, etc.
  • Bring a variety of engineering and physical sciences to bear effectively on design problems.
  • Apply current industrial design practice and techniques such as DFX, FMEA, and/or TQM to engineering design problems.
  • Construct and test prototype designs.
  • Develop and implement a design verification plan and report.
  • Communicate and present engineering design project results orally, graphically, and in writing

Of course, if you are unsure, just contact the course coordinator, Professor Peter Schuster at pschuste@calpoly.edu with your idea and ask for feedback!

What does it cost to sponsor a project?

Sponsorship Fee: If your project is assigned to a team, we ask all for-profit organizations to pay a sponsorship fee of $3000-$6000. The amount varies depending on whether your organization will accept the terms of Cal Poly’s Student Project Agreement and whether the project requires a full multi-disciplinary team to complete. This fee is used to offset technical support, consumable supplies, and overhead associated with this class.

Prototype Costs: We ask all sponsors to pay for the student's costs to produce a functional prototype of their design solution. You may specify a maximum amount for this with the students during the initial phase of the project if you wish. The details of the prototype build are finalized with your team at the Critical Design Review, when you are asked to approve the specific costs.

Project Support: A non-trivial cost to sponsor your project is the cost of your time. We ask all sponsors to remain in close contact (at least weekly) with their sponsored team, to answer technical questions, stay informed about the progress, guide any decisions, and help the teaching staff evaluate the team. There is no money exchanged for this, but you should be aware that it is a commitment we ask sponsors to make!

Do you have a problem or design challenge for Cal Poly engineering students?

We're always looking for good projects for our students. Please use our online proposal form here if you have a project you'd like to suggest.

Once we receive your project idea, the teaching team will review it and get in touch with you.  If your project fits our scope, we arrange a time for you to present to the students in September or January (on campus or by video).  Students will identify projects of interest and the teaching team will assign teams and advisors based on interest and appropriate skills.  We only ask for the course fee if your project is assigned to a team.

Professor Peter Schuster will lead the senior project course starting in September and can be contacted at pschuste@calpoly.edu.

We hope to have your project on-board next year!