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Capstone Class Gives Seniors a Glimpse of Life After Graduation

Capstone Class Gives Seniors a Glimpse of Life After Graduation

On a rainy December afternoon, ten engineering consultants and agency officials listen intently as students present plans for new campus developments in anticipation of the arrival of the Purple Line light rail.

These are the students of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) capstone class. And this is their final project.

A total of 34 CEE seniors in four groups presented comprehensive multi-use site and roadway plans—incorporating everything from stormwater management to utility line placement to sidewalk widths—during their final week of class. The expert panel then posed technical questions and offered advice for when the students make similar presentations to landowners, local officials, and others after leaving the University of Maryland.

“Of all the classes we’ve taken, this one is the most comprehensive and realistic,” said Chris Arita, a CEE senior enrolled in the class.

And the weeks of hard work put in by Arita and his fellow students paid off.

“I have participated in the program now for most of the nine years I’ve been in Maryland and have always been very impressed by the quality of the presentations,” said Eric Beckett, division chief for the Maryland State Highway Administration Regional and Intermodal Planning Division and one of the presentation judges. “This year was no exception!”

Roughly 120 students complete CEE’s capstone course each year. When their teacher Russell Anderson began his involvement in 2004, that number was less than half what it is now.

But Anderson wonders if he actually learns more from the students than they do from him.

“The teams raise the bar every semester,” said Anderson, who is also a senior engineer with the consulting firm Wallace Montgomery. “Last spring, one of the groups provided a 3-D printed, scale model of one of their proposed buildings. This semester, a few of the groups developed rendered video fly-throughs of their mixed-use, transit-oriented development. They definitely do a lot of work for a mere three-credit class!”

In addition to the final presentations, the course offers students the unique opportunity to learn from and ask questions of an array of industry and faculty guest lecturers and volunteers throughout the semester.

Many of these volunteers are veterans of the course themselves.

“Having been through the class, I know how valuable of a tool the feedback I received was and therefore wanted the chance to be able to return the favor,” said Kristopher Shea with Century Engineering, Inc. “The class and project associated with it does a great job demonstrating the types of problems and challenges you face in the consulting world and personally helped prepare me for the working world in a far greater way than I thought possible.”

STV Incorporated Senior Vice President Joel Oppenheimer, who has for over 10 years advised capstone students on the non-technical skills needed for career success, agreed that the strength of the course lies in its fidelity to life after graduation.

“The real world requires people to communicate and work in multi-discipline teams to accomplish a challenge in a set time frame and budget,” he explained.

“It’s ultimately just a glimpse of what working in a consulting firm is really like,” admitted former CEE student and Schnabel Engineering Senior Engineer Bill Billiet. “But that glimpse is invaluable.”

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December 15, 2016

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