ME Senior Project

Mechanical Engineering and Interdisciplinary Projects

Senior projects last for three quarters (a full academic year), 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.

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. During the first quarter, students conceptualize, perform feasibility studies and ultimately decide on a design direction which culminates into 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.

If you are curious about what constitutes a good project, or what results you can expect to see 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.

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!

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 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.

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.)


Read more about Cal Poly’s Senior Project Experience, including how to propose a project.  To propose a project idea enter your project idea online

Please send ideas for the January 2021 start before NOVEMBER 15, 2020.

Please send ideas for the April start before MARCH 1, 2021.

Please send ideas for the September start before AUGUST 1, 2021

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 with questions