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Frequently Asked Questions

Sponsor FAQs

What sponsorship opportunities exist for my company?

There are numerous ways to get involved as a corporate sponsor:

  1. Help support the Design Showcase and Project Kick-off ($1,500 or more)
  2. Sponsor a senior capstone design project ($3,500)
  3. Become an Event Sponsor ($3,000) for the spring semester Industry Partners Reception
  4. Provide unrestricted gifts for materials, equipment, and/or supplies used in the Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory or in any of the departmental facilities (typically $5,000+)
  5. Donate materials and equipment directly for use in the Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory or in any of the departmental facilities
  6. Donate your time and energy by becoming part of our Industrial Advisory Board

Corporate partners receive brand exposure and recognition on Learn Factory materials, such as the website, quarterly newsletters, and brochures. Also, corporate partners may provide signage for display in our facilities and at our events.

For more information about becoming a Corporate Sponsor, contact us.

How do I get involved in the Capstone Design program?

The Learning Factory helps coordinate 200 senior capstone design projects from industry sponsors and professional clients each year within the College of Engineering. These projects fulfill the senior Capstone Design course requirements in:

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering (counts as a technical elective)
  • Computer Science & Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering (one of three options for EE students)
  • Engineering Science & Mechanics (counts as a technical elective)
  • Energy Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Materials Science & Engineering
  • Mechanical & Nuclear Engineering

To support project expenses, sponsors make a donation of $3,500 to the College of Engineering. Of that $3,500 donation, $1,000 goes to the project team for expenses, another $1,000 covers Learning Factory expenses, with the remainder covering instructional and facilities costs on the academic department level.

For more information about becoming a Corporate Sponsor, contact us.

If you are ready to submit a project, you may do so online.

As a project sponsor, what is my responsibility to the students assigned to my project?

Sponsor involvement is essential to the success of the Learning Factory and the College of Engineering's Capstone Design program. Sponsors are expected to identify an Industry Liaison to serve as the team's point-of-contact for the project for the semester. We rely on our sponsors to fully engage their project teams during the semester and help us "hold their feet to the fire." We find the more time sponsors invest in the project, the more they get out of it.

The Industry Liaison should plan on:

  • attending the Project Kick-Off Meeting (1st week of semester)
  • providing additional details beyond the one-page Project Description
  • facilitating visits from the project team, if necessary (2nd-3rd week of semester, later as needed)
  • interacting regularly with the team via tele- and/or video-conferences, weekly memos, etc.
  • reviewing reports and providing feedback from an industry point of view
  • evaluating the students' performance (part of the final grade)
  • attending the Design Showcase (last week of the semester)
  • demanding constant professionalism and a high level of performance from the students

What are the typical deliverables for a project?

Depending on the nature of the project, the deliverables may include any or all of the following:

  • Technical reports (concept, preliminary, detail)
  • Engineering analyses
  • Patent searches, competitive benchmarking
  • Engineering drawings and specifications
  • Prototypes and preliminary hardware
  • Computer programs, simulation models, data
  • Manufacturing or service delivery process plans
  • Presentations, animations, videos, demonstrations
  • Final technical report, poster, and one-page summary

Each project will typically involve a team of 4-6 students over a 15-week semester. Considering that they will also be taking other courses at the same time, this equates to approximately 400 person hours of effort devoted to the project. Results from student teams are highly dependent on the nature of the project, the innate team capabilities, the amount of client interaction and support, and many other variables. No guarantees can be made, other than the students will give it their best effort.

What is Penn State’s intellectual property policy?

According to Penn State policy, undergraduate students own any intellectual property that they may develop as part of a course project; however, they can sign over their intellectual property rights to a sponsor if requested.

Sponsors may request ownership rights of all intellectual property that is developed by the students during the course of the project for an additional donation of $500 to help support our administration expenses. Projects in this category require students to assign their intellectual property rights to the sponsor. In addition, sponsors who have not yet filed a patent, and wish to avoid public disclosure of their invention, are highly advised to also request the confidentiality agreement for their project. Sponsors should also be aware that the Design Showcase is open to the public, which may have implications on patent filing.

What is the student budget for the Capstone Design project?

To support project expenses, $1,000 goes to the project team for expenses – including materials, travel, and other incidental expenses.

Where does my company’s donation for the project sponsorship go?

To support project expenses, sponsors make a donation of $3,500 to the College of Engineering. Of that $3,500 donation, $1,000 goes to the project team for expenses, another $1,000 covers Learning Factory expenses, with the remainder covering instructional and facilities costs on the academic department level.

Some projects may incur additional expenses depending on a sponsor's needs for Intellectual Property & Confidentiality. Once a team has been formed and starts working on the project, part of the donation can be submitted as a tax-deductible contribution to Penn State. Additional expenses to support the program are provided by the College of Engineering and sponsor donations.

How can I protect confidential data or information about my company or project?

In order to protect their competitive positions, sponsors may require each team member to sign a confidentiality agreement as a condition for working on their project, for an additional donation of $500 to help support our administration expenses. The Confidential Information Disclosure Agreement obliges the students to observe due diligence in protecting the confidentiality of company-provided information (data, drawings, design intent, etc.). Sponsors who have not yet filed a patent, and wish to avoid public disclosure of an invention, are advised to select this provision.

How can I assure that my project is suitable for the Capstone Design program?

The ideal project is the design of a product, process, or service that involves technical analysis, financial justification, and prototyping. This is an excellent opportunity, for a minimal investment, to investigate the potential of that "back-burner" idea which has been sitting on your desk. Projects need to have a strong design component with clear, well-defined objectives to provide the students with an initial starting point and allow them to keep focused. The required project work must be sufficient such that it may be handled within one 15-week semester. See the examples of past projects for additional insight into the scope and types of projects that work well for our students.

Can my project team visit my company location as part of their project?

Whenever possible, we encourage students to make an initial site visit to their project sponsor as soon as possible. Students are expected to contact their sponsors as soon as the team is formed to arrange that meeting.

Faculty FAQs

What is the typical timeline for students completing their Capstone Design project?

While capstone design sections differ slightly by department, a typical semester entails:

Week 1: Students attend class, review the descriptions of available projects, specify top five project preferences, and get assigned to a team and project

Week 2: Students attend Project Kick-Off to meet with team and project sponsor as well as arrange initial site visit

Weeks 2-4: Students make initial site visit, refine project requirements and deliverables, start brainstorming solutions

Weeks 5-6: Students prepare Statement of Work (SOW); review with instructor; revise and submit to sponsor

Weeks 7-9: Students continue working on project: gathering data, CAD modeling, prototyping, analysis, etc.

Weeks 10-11: Students prepare Detailed Specification Report (DSR); review with instructor; revise and submit to sponsor

Weeks 11-12: Students prepare and present alpha prototypes for review

Weeks 12-14: Students continue working on project: design for manufacturing, fabrication, testing, validation, etc.

Weeks 14-15: Students wrap up project, prepare final report, poster, and summary and attend Design Showcase

Can my students use the Learning Factory facility to complete projects for my class?

Instructors who would like to integrate the facilities into their courses are advised to work with the supervisor to avoid scheduling conflicts. The Learning Factory provides both a design studio/CAD Lab and a manufacturing shop. Engineering students have access to the Learning Factory computers. Other students may be granted access upon request.

Do students have to complete training to use the equipment at the Learning Factory?

The Learning Factory shop safety regulations are posted online and must be read by all students. Before a student is permitted to use Learning Factory shop resources, he/she must pass the Learning Factory Safety Quiz and complete the safety and power tool training. Please note that the quiz must be successfully completed prior to signing up for the in-person safety training.

What other facilities may engineering students use to complete their Capstone Design projects?

There are many facilities on campus that support the capstone design program and departmental design projects in addition to the Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory.

Facility Department Location Hours Point of Contact
Fabrication Lab (Fab Lab) Agricultural and Biological Engineering 132 Ag Engineering Building 7:30am-4:30pm M-F Randall Block
Biomedical Engineering Shop Biomedical Engineering B-15 Hallowell Building 8:00am-5:00pm M-F Gene Gerber
Factory for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Leonhard Building, First Floor 8:00am-5:00pm M-F Charles Purdum
Mechanical Engineering Machine Shop Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering 23 Reber Building 8:00am-12:00pm and 1:00pm-5:00pm M-F Brent Johnston
SEDTAPP Make Spaces School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs 303-316 Hammond Building 8:00am-5:00pm M-F Mike Gorta

As a project coordinator, how often should I meet with my teams?

Instructors are encouraged to hold weekly meetings with each of their teams to help keep them on schedule. These meetings typically last 20-30 minutes, during which time instructors can review the team's accomplishments using weekly progress reports - it is also helpful to get an updated Gantt chart as part of this weekly progress report. Instructors should also encourage their teams to share these weekly progress reports with their sponsors and make sure that their teams are in regular communication with their sponsors.

Where can I find forms for grading and evaluating my team?

A number of forms are available for download here. If you have additional needs, please contact us

Student FAQs

What can I expect this semester?

While capstone design sections differ slightly by department, a typical semester entails:

Week 1: Show up to class, review the descriptions of available projects, specify your top five project preferences then get assigned to a team and project

Week 2: Attend Project Kick-Off to meet with team and project sponsor; arrange initial site visit

Weeks 2-4: Make initial site visit, refine project requirements and deliverables, start brainstorming solutions

Weeks 5-6: Prepare Statement of Work (SOW); review with instructor; revise and submit to sponsor

Weeks 7-9: Continue working on project: gathering data, CAD modeling, prototyping, analysis, etc.

Weeks 10-11: Prepare Detailed Specification Report (DSR); review with instructor; revise and submit to sponsor

Weeks 11-12: Prepare and present alpha prototypes for review

Weeks 12-14: Continue working on project: design for manufacturing, fabrication, testing, validation, etc.

Weeks 14-15: Wrap up project, prepare final report, poster, and summary and attend Design Showcase

What is the Learning Factory?

The Learning Factory helps coordinate the industry partnerships and projects for the senior capstone design courses in Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computer Science & Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Energy Engineering, Engineering Design, Engineering Science, Industrial Engineering, Materials Science & Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Nuclear Engineering. The Learning Factory also organizes the Project Kick-off and Design Showcase each semester. The Learning Factory is also a building but depending on your project, you may not need to use it; your department's facilities may have everything your team needs.

I hear there are awards … for what?

Awards are given at the end of the semester during the Design Showcase for:

  • Best Project
  • Best Poster
  • BP People’s Choice Award

The Best Project and Best Poster awards are selected by a panel of industry judges based on a set of judging criteria that are assessed at the Design Showcase. The BP People’s Choice Award is determined by votes from the audience and participants of the Showcase.

Lockheed Martin gives the Design Excellence Award to the 1st place Best Project teams.

Many departments also give awards to recognize outstanding projects in their sections. You should talk to your instructor to see what is available in your department.

What is my responsibility to the team?

To help manage the project, we suggest that each member of the team take on one (or more) of the following roles:

  • Point of Contact: This person coordinates all communication with the sponsor
  • Meeting Recorder: This person records meeting minutes
  • Notebook Organizer: This person maintains the team's notebook (electronic or hardcopy)
  • Budgeting: This person keeps track of the team's project expenses
  • Scheduling: This person updates the Gantt Chart and maintains the team's schedule

Remember, doing the project and managing the project are two different things - good project management can improve project execution, as you may learn in this course.

How often should we meet?

Teams are encouraged to meet frequently and hold weekly meetings with their instructor. When meeting with your instructor, it is helpful to have a weekly progress report and an updated Gantt chart to track your team's progress. This information should also be shared with the sponsor on a regular basis.

How often should we talk to our sponsor?

Once your team is formed, it is your team's responsibility to maintain regular communication with your sponsor. We recommend appointing one person on the team as the point of contact to serve as the liaison between the company and the team. Teams get more timely responses from sponsors if only one person is in contact with them versus if everyone on the team tries to communicate directly with the sponsor, which can quickly overwhelm them. Also, make sure to keep communications brief and direct - be mindful that they have regular job responsibilities and duties besides this project.

What if some of my teammates are not pulling their weight?

The responsibility for managing the team lies primarily with the team itself, and there will be multiple opportunities during the semester to evaluate the performance and contributions of your peers on the team - in many cases, this feedback impacts your individual grades for the course as well.

If issues persist and cannot be resolved by your team, then you should seek advice from your instructor; it is not really professional to involve your industry sponsor in your team disputes.

What are my team’s deliverables?

Each team will have deliverables specific to their project (e.g., analyses, simulation models, working prototype, hardware, test results), which should be reviewed and agreed upon with the project sponsor during the initial conference call or site visit. We recommend that teams and sponsors sign a Deliverables Agreement Form early in the semester so that everyone is clear on the project expectations.

Do we have to write a report?

Each team has reporting requirements for their instructor, which typically include a Statement of Work (a.k.a., a project proposal), a Detailed Specification Report, and a Final Report. A copy of the Final Report should also be submitted to the Learning Factory as noted below. Each team should review the relevant course syllabus to see when these reports are due, the expectations for each report, grading, etc.

Do we have to make any presentations?

Teams typically give two oral presentations during the semester. The first presentation occurs about 1/3 of the way into the semester and covers the project proposal (i.e., what your team plans to do). The second presentation is the final team report at the end of the semester.

Teams should also practice the project overview and "elevator pitch" that they will give to industry sponsors, faculty, and other students during the Design Showcase.

Do we have to make a poster?

Each team must prepare a poster (32" wide x 40" tall) to display at the Design Showcase. These posters are typically made in PowerPoint, and they can be printed in the Engineering Copy Center (and direct billed to your project). Teams are responsible for bringing their posters to the Design Showcase, after which they will be gathered by the Learning Factory staff and delivered back to your home department for display. Examples of past posters are on display on the 1st and 3rd floors of the Leonhard Building, the 2nd floor of Reber Building, and in the Learning Factory.

Do I have to give anything to the Learning Factory?

At the end of the semester, the Learning Factory would like to get copies of:

  • Final project report (WORD & PDF versions) for our files and future reference
  • One-page project recap summary (WORD & PDF versions) to post with examples of past projects
  • Final project poster (for future display) 32" x 40" size, portrait orientation (POWERPOINT & PDF versions)

A folder will be set up in Box for your team to upload these documents. Students are responsible for submitting copies of all documents to their instructors and sponsors as well for feedback, grading, and evaluation.

How is this different from other project experiences?

Your capstone design experience will be unlike anything you have done in any of your other classes as you will be doing a real project for a real company. These companies are paying money for these projects, including your team's budget, and they are expecting something in return.

For many of you, it may be the first chance that you have had to apply your engineering theory and knowledge to help solve a real problem. For others, this may be your first real interaction with a company. For most of you, this will be the first real team project you have had - being effective as a team will take a lot more than it does to divvy up a homework problem set.

So what more is expected of me?

It should go without saying that you are expected to act in a professional manner - these are real companies that you are working with on these projects. Dress appropriately for meetings, be on time, stick to your schedule, don't miss meetings or be late on deliverables, don't send text messages while meeting with your sponsor, etc. These things may seem small, but they will be noticed as many companies treat this as a 15-week interview of the team. So do a good job, and they may offer you a job!

Keep in mind that your team's performance and conduct directly impacts our relationships with our industrial sponsors, and while missing a few teleconferences with your sponsor or misbehaving on a site visit may not immediately affect your team, it may make the company think twice before doing another project with us, which does impact future seniors. Conversely, delivering a high-quality project on time, and within budget, helps us continue and strengthen these relationships.

Remember your actions not only reflect on you and your team, but also on Penn State - and people are watching. If you haven't encountered it yet, you will be amazed how many Penn State alumni are out working at companies like these.

Does my team have a budget?

Each team has a budget of up to $1,000 for project expenses, which includes travel, materials, and supplies. It is helpful to assign one person to be responsible for tracking all of team's project related expenses so that they can be accurately reported to the instructor, sponsor, and in project reports. Teams will be given reimbursement and purchasing guidelines

Is there a limit on how much I can spend at a given time?

Purchases are limited to $50 or less (cash or credit) total per vendor per day per student. Purchases greater than $50 should be made through Cindy Winkelblech using the Materials Request Form as described below. Purchase requests should include complete information for buying the item, as well as the student's name, telephone number, email address; team name; and company sponsor. The person handling the team's budget should make sure to record all taxes as well as shipping and handling charges for all purchases.

How do I get reimbursed for purchases that I made that are under $50?

Original, itemized receipts are required for reimbursement. Petty cash may be requested using the Petty Cash Form as described below. Students submitting multiple receipts that total more than $75 will be reimbursed by check and mailed directly to the student at the address provided within two weeks. Students are strongly encouraged to request petty cash reimbursements as soon as purchases are made - do not let receipts accumulate. Reimbursements are handled on a first come, first served basis.

Can I get reimbursed for telephone calls with my sponsor?

Telephone calls can be made from the Learning Factory or the conference rooms in 339 and 312 Leonhard Building. See Cindy Winkelblech in 314C Leonhard to schedule the conference room. If you call from your residence, the bills are reimbursable if you submit the original phone bill as a receipt.

Are there things for which I will not get reimbursed?

Meals and taxi service in the State College area, postage, mileage to and from rental car agency, food for sponsor meetings, clothing, and shoes cannot be reimbursed. Cindy Winkelblech can mail or ship items for the team as needed. Finally, project expenses that exceed $1,000 that have not been approved by the instructor and agreed upon by the company will not be reimbursed. For more details, read the Reimbursement and Purchasing Guidelines.

What if my team goes over budget?

Your instructor must approve project expenses over $1,000 before any such purchases are made. Unapproved purchases that exceed this amount will not be reimbursed.

Some projects may require equipment that exceeds the allotted budget, and the team should work with the instructor and sponsor to determine the best way to proceed. The same goes for travel as sponsors are often willing to help pay the cost to fly the team in for a site visit if the company is not within driving distance.

How do I get reimbursed for my team’s travel?

Site visits to sponsors must be pre-approved by the team's instructor, and all actual, itemized receipts (plus mileage) are reimbursable. See Reimbursement and Purchasing Guidelines for additional details.

How do I pay for charges at The Learning Factory?

When you use certain equipment and materials in the Learning Factory, the charges will be entered into the Learning Factory billing system. Tell the Learning Factory staff you are working on a capstone project and provide them with the name of your project and sponsor company, they will find it in the billing system and charge your team accordingly. The charges will be deducted from your budget at the end of the semester.

Who owns my Intellectual Property?

According to Penn State policy RAG-13, undergraduate students own any intellectual property (IP) that they may develop as part of a course (or research) project, including senior capstone design projects done in conjunction with the Learning Factory or any Penn State facility.

Can sponsors ask for my Intellectual Property?

Some industry sponsors may request ownership rights of all Intellectual Property (IP) that is developed by a student team during the course of the senior capstone design project. Students will be notified on the first day of class which projects, if any, have these restrictions on them. If students wish to work on these design projects then they must agree to sign over their rights to any IP that may result from the project, in and outside of the classroom. The entire team must sign the IP agreement form before they can begin working on the project. This form will be provided to the team as soon as it is formed.

What if a company patents my idea after I signed over my Intellectual Property?

If the company decides to patent an idea that resulted from a senior capstone design project after the team signed off on the IP Agreement Form, then the team will be listed as inventors on the patent; however, they will not be entitled to any royalties or payments that may result.

What if we have a patentable idea and we did not have to sign the Intellectual Property form?

In the event that new Intellectual Property (IP) is created on the project and the sponsor did not have the team sign an IP Agreement Form, then the students own the IP and can decide what to do with it. Some teams may elect to pursue a patent - at their own expense - and then license it back to the company; others may try to sell the IP to the company for a one-time fee. The staff in Penn State's Intellectual Property Office can discuss the available options and costs and recommend legal counsel as requested.

Is project data confidential?

Some sponsors may provide confidential data or information for a project, or they may have filed a provisional patent and want to protect their idea. Students will be notified on the first day of class which projects, if any, have these restrictions on them. If students wish to work on these projects, then the entire team must sign a Confidential Information Disclosure Agreement, which obliges students to observe due diligence in protecting the confidentiality of company-provided information (data, drawings, design intent, etc.). Otherwise, project data is not sensitive or have to be kept confidential.

Can I visit my sponsor?

Student teams are encouraged to make an initial site visit to their project sponsor as soon as possible. We recommend contacting your sponsor as soon as your team is formed to arrange a meeting as it may take a week or so to find a good day/time for everyone.

When scheduling your site visit, please keep the following in mind:

  • Teams should notify their instructors when and where you plan to travel so that they are aware of your team's travel arrangements.
  • Students who feel uncomfortable traveling for their project - or cannot travel due to other restrictions - should consult with their instructor to make alternate arrangements.
  • Finally, it is okay to cancel/postpone/reschedule trips due to possible severe weather or other unforeseen conditions.
  • Your team's budget can be used to cover travel expenses by following the guidelines for reimbursements.

Please contact Cindy Winkelblech in 314C Leonhard Building if you need help with your travel arrangements.

 
 

About

Our mission is to help bring the real-world into the classroom by providing engineering students with practical hands-on experience through industry-sponsored and client-based capstone design projects. Since its inception, the Learning Factory has completed more than 1,800 projects for more than 500 different sponsors, and nearly 9,000 engineering students at Penn State University Park participated in such a project.

The Learning Factory

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802