GVSU Capstone Program thrives

February 2, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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The GVSU School of Engineering Capstone Design Program is still going strong, despite the temporary setback recently in the school's co-op program due to the recession. But Capstone director Hugh Jack said there have been some subtle changes in the program.

Each year, seniors in the GVSU engineering school are split into teams and spend their last two semesters solving engineering design problems faced by area manufacturers. This school year, the Capstone teams are working on 13 projects, up from 11 last year.

"There is a slight change in the profile of the projects," said Jack. "More tend to focus on refinement and cost savings as opposed to new manufacturing initiatives, but it is not universal."

Jack said many companies apparently are using the economic slowdown "to prepare for the next upswing — something that is very hard to do when times are good and everybody is trying to keep up. So we have an abundance of new product development projects."

A company that participates with a Capstone team gives the students a place to work. The students are not paid but the companies provide the machines and materials the students use in designing and building production machines.

"It is worth noting that the demand for engineers is still strong, even in these times. We have had student co-op jobs lost because of layoffs, but most are quickly re-employed," Jack said.

"When you consider that, even now, paid co-op employment rates are close to 100 percent (of regular wages), it puts things in perspective — as opposed to other disciplines where they cannot even place all of their unpaid intern positions. By far the greatest challenge we face is the lack of students selecting engineering because of misconceptions about the profession," said Jack.

"The ultimate irony is that students who select engineering now will be graduating when the market for engineers is very hot and the salaries will be even higher. And at that time, there will be articles about the shortage of engineers and the need for more visas for foreign engineers," said Jack.

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