Compassion Practicum: A Capstone Design Experience at the United States Military Academy
Catalano, George D., Wray, Pat, Cornelio, Stephanie, Journal of Engineering Education
A partnership has been developed linking the United States Military Academy and Special People in the Northeast, a nonprofit agency for the mentally and physically handicapped children and adults based in Philadelphia. The present work documents a student design team's design and construction ofa ticket-tearing device for a young man in the advanced stages of cerebral palsy and concludes with an evaluation of the entire process.
The term, "compassion practicum," was first coined by Fox.' He described such a practicum as an essential element in the formal professional training for both clergy and the laity. We have used the phrase as a richly descriptive metaphor for a capstone experience at the United States Military Academy.
Innovations in the capstone engineering design experience have been carefully documented in the literature. Todd et al? conducted a survey of capstone engineering courses offered throughout North America and found that an overwhelming number of departments believed that such courses were beneficial to their students and their programs. As a result of their survey, several areas for improvement were identified, including the need for additional opportunities for students and faculty members to develop teamwork and the need for an increased emphasis on real world applications throughout the curriculum but particularly in capstone design. Miller and Olds' have described their effort to develop a curricular and pedagogical model for the teaching of multi-disciplinary capstone design. Using an ongoing formative and summative evaluation process to monitor the perceptions and knowledge levels of students, Miller et al.' found that the multi-disciplinary design teams seemed to produce "better" designs than the more traditional single discipline-based teams. Amon et al.4 described a two-semester design sequence that sought to integrate research and education through industrially sponsored design projects. Students learn about design methodologies and then practice implementation, participate in research and finally deliver end products to their respective sponsors.
At the United States Military Academy in mechanical engineering, engineering design is presented in a three-semester sequence of courses. During the first semester, cadets (students) are formally introduced to design methodologies and are given opportunities to explore various critical and creative thinking skills required of the successful mechanical engineer. This introductory course is followed by a tightly constrained application course, which traditionally focuses upon a particular design problem unique to the military academies, the design of a weapon system. During the third and last course, cadets are provided with an open ended design expenence wherein the team, typically three or four cadets, is challenged to design, build and deliver a working prototype or detailed feasibility study to a client, frequently a U.S. Army or other external federal agency. During the academic year 1997-1998, the projects were richly diverse ranging from an all terrain baja-type vehicle to a solar powered race car to an in situ oxygen and carbon dioxide detector for use by soldiers in an actual battlefield environment. The design project, which is the focus of the present work, involves the design and fabrication of a ticket-cutting device for a young man, David Sorkin, in the advanced stages of cerebral palsy. David, a recent graduate of the Widener School in Philadelphia had been working a limited schedule as a ticket-taker at a nearby neighborhood theater having been placed through the efforts of SPIN (Special People in the Northeast), a nonprofit agency dedicated to improving the quality of the lives of people struggling with both mental and physical disabilities. David's on-duty time was restricted to periods in the theater when the movie-goer attendance was particularly sparse as he had difficulty in tearing the ticket stubs in half with half returned to the patron and the other half kept by the theater for records. Thus in order to work more hours, David needed to be able to tear the tickets quickly whether it was one or even a substantial stack of stubs. The course was organized with a senior military officer serving as the overall course director and with each design team of cadets and projects assigned to a specific faculty member to serve as mentor. During the fall term before the capstone design course, an open forum was held with the extensive list of possible projects presented to the class for their consideration. There were over thirty projects available ofwhich approximately ten were chosen. An electronic survey was then sent out before the holiday recess with the cadets asked to indicate the projects of most interest to each of them. With perhaps one or two exceptions, the cadet teams usually are assigned to one of their top two choices. The final assignments awaited the class as they returned for the start of the spring semester. The course was structured in the following manner. Each team was required to prepare periodic progress reports as well as a midterm and final oral presentation and report. The milestone schedule of events for each project was developed by the cadet teams and agreed to by the individual faculty members and any external agents, as was the scheduling of formal or informal weekly meetings. Additionally there was a small but well staffed machine shop and extensive computer-aided design facilities all available in support of the different projects.
11. THE DESIGN PROCESS
Cadets are exposed to a host of formal design methodologies and tools during the first two semesters in design, including the use of mind mapping, how-why diagrams, functional decomposition, and quality function deployment. Seeking to emphasize the importance of open-mindedness and flexibility in thinking, the first few hours of the meetings for the team assigned to the SPIN project were devoted to a review of the current design literature. In addition, design models described by Koberg and Bagnall,5 Bransford and Stein,' and Harrisberger' were introduced and discussed. The Koberg and Bagnall approach seemed most accessible for this cadet team with this project and was subsequently used as a blueprint for the rest of the term's activities. In this model of creative problem solving, the following seven steps are described: (1) acceptance, (2) analysis, (3) definition, (4) ideation or brainstorming, (5) selection, (6) implementation and (7) evaluation.
From the outset it became dear that this was a different kind of a capstone design project both for the cadets involved and for their advisor. At the end of the term there was not a glorious cross-country competition or a corporate client waiting, there was a young man who needed a small bit of help to make his life a bit more fulfilling. Any effort short of a complete dedication seemed selfish and callous at best. This one was not to be about grades or glory but simply compassion through the exercise of engineering skills. An end product of the acceptance stage was a milestone schedule with as much detail provided by the cadet team as possible.
Working with a young man with advanced cerebral palsy forced entry into a far different world than is the norm at USMA where all the students are young, bright, and extremely athletic. The cadet team studied the videotape provided by SPIN and its qualitative documentation of both the task that David was required to perform in his role as a ticket-taker and his strengths and weaknesses. Though legally blind, David was able to grasp tickets when presented to him and after some effort aligns a stack of several tickets, all facing in the same direction. The theater had asked David to tear the tickets in half and this was his most difficult challenge as he has severely limited strength and dexterity in his arms, wrists, and grip. David would take each ticket or a maximum of two, align them, bend them in half, and then try to rip the tickets near their center. The team's review of the video tape immediately led to a need for much more specific data on the actual strength and dexterity and limitations that David possessed and a meeting at West Point was quickly arranged.
The first meeting was filled with anticipation and anxiety for all involved. David was given a series of tests including lifting small weights and arm/wrist extensions resulting in a much dearer documentation and understanding of David's capabilities. More than simply a data-taking session, the first encounter laid the foundation for developing friendships among cadets, David, staff, and faculty members For me (Catalano), the meeting summoned forth the graceful sentiments of E.F. Shumacher's Small is Beautiful. Economics when People Matter.' The first encounter seemed to all concerned to be an example of engineering when people matter. At this point, the team employed several formal design tools including how-why diagrams and functional decomposition. The cadets' experiences are detailed in a later section of this report.
Personal experiences and observations point to the close linkage between the practice of engineering and Utilitarianism. Engineers largely want to do the "most good for the most people." The philosophy of Utilitarianism does pose practical problems when engineers are presented with projects such as this one in that there is an almost immediate and heartfelt reaction to "fix" all of David's problems with complex multi-faceted and -discipline gadgetry. An important learning experience near the outset was the realization that time and resources are finite no matter the nobleness of intentions. The definition stage of the design process shed great light on the importance of communication in a successful design effort. Because David wanted to become the best employee he could, he related requirements for his job to the cadet team, which were later discovered never to have been required by his employer. As a result, the design team was forced to sift through the necessary requirements of the design and separate out those requirements which were a result of David's desire to surpass all expectations of his performance.
Mind mapping was used extensively in the ideation or brainstorming process. Alternatives suggested by members of the team included:
a variation of a paper stapler in which the solenoid plunger propels a blade in a chopping motion, and
a fully automatic device patterned after one used by commercial airlines at major connecting hubs.
Cadets experienced first hand a doggedly stubborn problem in many colleges of engineering-the compartmentalization of working knowledge. Some of the ideas that the design team brought to the discussion table required expertise beyond that found in a traditional mechanical engineering curriculum but may very well be found at the undergraduate level in other disciplines. This problem persists at USMA despite the fact that the upper administration strongly encourages the development of interdisciplinary experiences for cadets. A result of the persistence of the traditional structure of engineering programs for the cadets was a parochial bias towards strictly mechanical devices.
The final selection was a device incorporating two shearing blades used in cutting steel plates. The motive force, incorporating a lever arm for mechanical advantage, was to be provided by David. The blades would slowly return to their original location through the action of a helical spring. Electrical devices were eliminated from consideration due to lack of technical resources and time.
Because David's safety remained paramount, safety guides and shields were incorporated into the design. For cutting ease, the blades were beveled and hardened. Two of the main considerations in the selection of components were their availability and ease of repair and/or replacement. Considering their upcoming graduation and subsequent commissioning as well as the distance between Philadelphia and West Point, the team worked diligently to make the final device easily maintainable. The final ticket-tearing device along with the ticket stub catch basket were mounted on a stand-alone structure, the base of which David propelled his wheelchair over in order to obtain the needed support for the cutting motion.
Evaluation was a three-step process. At mid-term, David made his second visit to West Point and tried out the first prototype. Because the project had generated considerable interest in the local media, several reporters were also in attendance. David, the cadet team, faculty, and staff were all feeling the additional pressure that outside news media attention can generate. David's first attempts with the ticket-tearing device were less than satisfactory. The device worked well with one ticket but with more than one; the stack became entangled in the blades. From an emotional point of view, this event was the lowest point for the entire term. Not only was David visibly disappointed but also the cadet team experienced a sense of having "let David down." The next day I (Catalano) scheduled a meeting with the team to let them share their thoughts and feelings, about the project and the presentation. I shared with them my disappointments and failures as both an engineer and an educator and encouraged them to come up with plans to address the shortcomings they saw in the design.
A much-modified device was readied for David's next visit in mid-April. The team's persistence and dedication began to reap rewards. After a few trial runs, David was able to cut eight tickets at one time. A third visit was then scheduled so that the entire device including collection box and stanchion could be finalized. While at West Point for his third visit, David was able to cut quickly a stack of fifteen tickets with one quick motion. His remarkable progress was the result of three complementary factors: the device was continually improving,
David was gaining experience with the device and feeling more confident, and
David was undergoing physical therapy targeted for strengthening the muscle groups involved in the cutting motion.
A final presentation of the device was made to David at the movie theater in Philadelphia. The event generated a great deal of interest in both the print and electronic media as well as in local and state government agencies. David reveled in demonstrating the device, speaking of his new friends at USMA and expressing confidence about his plans at the theater and beyond.
The goal of the project was to enable David to work more hours at the theater including some of the busiest periods. David has in fact increased his work schedule from one afternoon to three full days. In addition to taking patrons' tickets,David is quick to speak of his friends from West Point and his near alumnus status.
III. CADET REACTIONS AND ANALYSIS
Cadets were contacted via electronic mail to arrange individual discovery sessions with a learning specialist/counselor in the Academy's Center for Enhanced Performance. One-hour sessions were conducted with each of the four graduating seniors on the design team. During the first five minutes of each discovery session the following points were discussed:
the purpose of the session was to collect honest and open feedback about their experiences in the project,
each group member was to have an opportunity to review his responses prior to forwarding to their faculty advisor, and
the discovery session was to be an opportunity to reflect upon the capstone experience within the framework of their entire undergraduate experience at USMA.
The cadets understood these ground rules and were open and candid during the sessions. They seemed most comfortable and enthusiastic when responding to questions concerning David and the device and least comfortable when asked about the team's interpersonal dynamics. The following main issues surfaced during the sessions:
cadets expressed their perception and frustration that they did not have an opportunity to actually "make" a product using their academic training before the capstone experience. They felt that while they had learned a vast array of engineering skills, they had never been forced to apply them to produce an actual product.
cadets expressed concern over the lack of time afforded to be either creative or reflective in their engineering classes.
cadets expressed discomfort at not being given specific instructions and tasks by their faculty advisor at the start of the term. It seemed that these students were used to seeking an "approved solution." As the semester unfolded, the cadets commented that they grew to understand that while a project on paper may look "neat," the only approved solution that matters was ensuring the device met all or most of David's needs.
cadets described the capstone experience as providing them with the opportunity to experience "real" engineering and to grow both as engineers and as people.
cadets commented on the apparent lack of financial and technical resources dedicated to helping members of the disabled community. They were stunned that agencies and schools that work with young people like David seem to be at a much lower level in the "pecking order."
cadets passionately spoke of their interactions with David. David had touched their lives and moved the cadets to describe him as "strongest and bravest person that they have ever met." The cadets referred to their project as a "labor of love."
IV. CONCLUDING REmARKs
The juxtaposition of four young men whose lives are filled with unlimited potential and opportunities with another young man whose number one goal in life was to work more hours as a ticket-- taker at a nearby theater remains compelling. It is a collision of two worlds that rarely, if ever, occurs. The cadets' own words and actions speak to the value they placed on the experience. David was in attendance at graduation as a guest of one of the members of the team.
As part of the final presentation to David in Philadelphia, the team, faculty, and staff visited with school officials at the Widener School. Children of all ages from pre-school to seniors like David were in attendance. Each of us was moved by the experience. We were overwhelmed by the sheer courage demonstrated by these children in coping with their own specific limitations. Far beyond simple bravery, many of the children whom we met exuded ajoy for life with eyes filled with excitement. We remain in awe of the dedicated professionals at Widener. My most vivid memory of the visit centers on the walk I took down past the auditorium. Up on stage, one class was performing in a talent show while other students remained below in rapt attention. Along the walls of the corridors, I noticed dozens of crude devices that likely had been designed and fabricated by the staff at home or in their garages. The engineering seemed rudimentary at best. Official both at Widener and at SPIN commented that what places like Widener desperately need is help with the actual engineering design involved in such devices. Local technicians and machine shops are eager to do the fabrication; it is the actual engineering that remains the obstacle. Many such projects would seem to be ideally suited for capstone design experiences.
Financial support for this project was provided by the Academic Research Division, Office of the Dean at the USMA. We wish to thank particularly (ret) BG. F.M. Lamkin, Senior Dean at USMA, for his unswerving moral support and leadership. We thank Mr. George Zint and Mr. Gary Wojciechowski for their fabrication support beyond the call of duty. Our thanks also go out to Ms. Anita Thomson and Dr. Ed Lenoe for their help in making the whole experience possible. We also would like to thank Col. Steve Klegka for his gracious support of the project in his role as course director and director of the mechanical engineering division and Col. Kip Nygren for his commitment to this effort as department head. We thank Ms. Karen Catalano for her editorial help. We also thank four sincere and dedicated young men, Jason Whipple, Kobbe Shaw, Scot Lord, and Nick Palmisciano, who have gone on to become military officers in service to our nation. Most of all, we would like to thank David for his presence in each of our lives.
1. Fox, Matthew, On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear, New York Paulist Press, Jan. 1977.
2. Todd, RH., et aL, "A Survey of Capstone Engineering Courses in North America," Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 84, no. 2, April 1995,pp.165-174.
3. Miller, RL., and B. Olds, "A Model Curriculum for a Capstone Course in Multidisciplinary Design,"Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 83, no. 4, Oct. 1994, pp. 311-317.
4. Amon, C.H., et aL, "Integrating Design Education, Research and Practice at Carnegie Mellon: A Multi-disciplinary Course in Wearable Computers," Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 85, no. 4, Oct. 1996, pp.279-286.
5. Koberg, D., and J. Bagnall, The All New Universal Traveler, Los Angeles, Kaufman, 1981.
6. Bransford, J.D., and B. Stein, The Ideal Problem Solver, New York, Freeman, 1983.
7. Harnsberger, L., Engineermanship, Belmont, CA, Freeman, 1982.
8. Schumacher, E.F., Small Is Beautiful, New York, Hartley & Sons, 25- ed., 1998.
9. Martin, M., and R. Schinzinger, Ethics in Engineering, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1983.
GEORGE D. CATALANO*
Watson School of Engineering
State University New York at Binghamton
Special People in the Northeast
Liberal Arts Counseling Center
ICa#tani Community College
*Work was performed while on the faculty at the United State Military Academy.
GEORGE D. CATALANO (CONTACT AUTHOR)
Professor George D. Catalano is the newly appointed Director of the Division of Engineering Design at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Prior to joining SUNY, Dr. Catalano served on the faculty of the United States Military Academy for seven years and Louisiana State University for twelve years. He earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1977 in aerospace engineering. In addition, Dr. Catalano has a M.S. from the University of Virginia and a BS from Louisiana State University also in aerospace engineering. Dr. Catalano is a two time Fulbright scholar residing in Germany and in Italy.
Address: Division of Engineering Design, SUNY-Binghamton, P. O. Box 6000, Binghamton, NY, 13902-6000; telephone: 607777-4881; fax: 607-777-6525; e-mail: email@example.com.
Stephanie Cornelio received her Bachelor of Arts from San Diego State University and her Masters in Education with a major in College Student Personnel Administration from James Madison University. She is currently serving as a Counselor and Instructor at Kapiolani Community College in Hawaii. Previous positions include Director of Women's Resource Center at The University of Texas at El Paso, and Instructor/Counselor at the United States Military Academy.
Address: Kapiolani Community College, 4303 Diamond Head, Liberal Arts Counseling Office, Honolulu, HI, 96816; telephone: 808-734-9510; e-mail: Stephanme@aol.com.
Patricia Wray is currently the Manager of the Community Employment Department of Special People in Northeast, Inc., a nonprofit agency that provides services to individuals with disabilities in the Philadelphia region. She previously ran her own company, Employment Support Services, in Littleton, Colorado. Patricia Wray became involved in the field of disabilities through her daughter Karis who has a developmental disability. Ms. Wray is currently completing a bachelor's program in Organizational Management at Eastern College.
Address: Employment Specialist, Special People in Northeast, 10360 Drummond Rd., Philadelphia, PA, 19154; telephone: 215613-1074, ext. 1174; e-mail: PWRAY@spininc.org.…
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Publication information: Article title: Compassion Practicum: A Capstone Design Experience at the United States Military Academy. Contributors: Catalano, George D. - Author, Wray, Pat - Author, Cornelio, Stephanie - Author. Journal title: Journal of Engineering Education. Volume: 89. Issue: 4 Publication date: October 2000. Page number: 471+. © AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR ENGINEERING EDUCATION Oct 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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