ME Senior Project

Mechanical Engineering and Interdisciplinary Projects

Senior projects last a full academic year (three quarters), and can start in September, January, or April. This format allows students to develop teamwork 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.

Student teams are formed in the first two weeks and stay together for the entire project.  Faculty guide students through this design process:

  • During the first quarter, teams work to fully define the problem, conceptualize solutions, perform feasibility studies, and ultimately decide on a design direction.  The first quarter culminates with a formal Preliminary Design Review (PDR).
  • During the second quarter, teams complete detailed design and supporting analysis, then hold a formal Critical Design Review (CDR).  After CDR, sponsor’s procure the requested materials and students begin building their Verification Prototype. 
  • The third quarter is used to complete the build and test the prototype to see how well it meets the project goals.  A Final Report and Design Exposition are presented at the end of the course sequence. 

A faculty advisor meets with each team on a weekly basis, guiding them on their project.  For the technical specifics, the students work with their industry contact and other Cal Poly faculty.

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.

If you are curious about what constitutes a good project, or what results you can expect to see, take a look at past Senior Projects reports at Cal Poly’s Digital Commons website. (Note that sponsors may request that project reports not be included on this site.)

Also keep in mind that teams are required 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.

Sponsorship Fee

If your project is assigned to a team, we ask sponsors to pay a course fee of $3000-$9000. The amount varies depending on the size of your organization and whether you will accept the terms of Cal Poly’s Student Project Sponsorship Agreement. This fee is used to offset technical support, consumable supplies, and overhead associated with this class.  The fee is waived for non-profit sponsors.

Prototype Costs

We ask all sponsors to procure all materials so students can build a functional prototype of their design. 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 (CDR), when you are asked to begin procuring materials.

Project Support

A non-trivial “cost” to sponsor your project is your time. We ask all sponsors to remain in close contact (at least biweekly) 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!

Please use our Online Proposal Form 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 will arrange a time for you to present your project to students at the start of the next project cycle (late September, early January, or early April). We’ll form teams based on student interests and skills.

We only ask for the course fee if your project is assigned to a team.

If you have any questions, contact the course coordinator, Professor Peter Schuster at We hope to have your project on-board next year!

    1. Creative Ideas.  Students bring fresh perspectives and creativity to your problem.  Since they haven’t worked in your area, they will be willing to take risks and try out new ideas.
    2. Real Results.  All teams create a design, analyze it, construct a prototype, and perform tests.  While we can’t guarantee the final prototype will function, you and the students will learn a lot about your design challenge during the process.
    3. Extended Interview.  Working with a student team lets you interact with students for a full academic year.  This is like an extended interview if you are interested in hiring Cal Poly graduates.
    4. Student learning.  Your sponsorship of a senior project will allow a team of ME seniors to work on a realistic design challenge while preparing them for work in industry.
    • Design Challenge.  We need problems (design challenges) that could be solved by a mechanical system.  Don’t worry if you can’t fully define the problem – that’s part of the design team’s job!  I’ll also help you determine the right scope.
    • Communication.  The best projects have fully-engaged sponsors interested in the outcome who remain in contact with the team throughout the year. 
    • Prototype Costs.  All teams build & test a physical prototype.  Teams perform most manufacturing and testing themselves, but we rely on the sponsor to pay for materials and specialty build/test costs.
    • Course Fee.  We ask external sponsors to pay a fee at the start of the project to cover course administrative, facility, and equipment costs.  The course fee (assuming you are willing to use Cal Poly’s Industry-Sponsored Student Project agreement) is:
      • $6000 for corporate sponsors 
      • $3000 for individuals and small businesses (We waive the course fee for non-profits and individuals who do not want to own any project intellectual property or control confidentiality.)

Beyond sponsoring a project, there are other great ways that you can help support the ME Senior Project program:

    • Become a Senior Project Mentor.  We are looking for practicing engineers interested in mentoring a senior design team.  Your role would be to act as an alternative resource for the team members – for project issues, career questions, and general advice.  If you’re interested in sharing your experience with a senior design team, let me know and I’ll get you more information.
    • Donate to the Mechanical Engineering Senior Project Fund to support machine shop technicians and provide project materials for non-profits.  
    • Support the prototyping costs for a non-profit project.  Non-profits bring terrific design challenges, but many lack the funding to pay for the materials so students can build a functioning system.  This is a great way to make your donation go further – the students get a great design experience and the non-profit gets a custom-built functional system.  If you are interested in sponsoring one of these projects, send me an e-mail and I’ll connect you with one of our non-profit sponsors. 

Please contact Peter Schuster if you would like to learn more about these options.

Please contact Peter Schuster with questions