It’s that time of year when senior, final-year students complete and present their “capstone design projects”. These are group design projects, usually based on industry problems or student innovation ideas. The projects are meant to be completely open-ended (i.e. there is no obvious, single, correct solution) and require students to pull together concepts from a variety of topics they have learned over the years. The projects are not assigned, it is up to the student groups to come up with ideas, either on their own or through faculty or industry connections. This is where co-op education really helps, because most of our students already have pretty good ideas based on what they have seen in their 2 years of work experience during university.
The design project results are presented in “Design Symposia” for each program, and there is a website which lists the dates in mid to late March. These are open to the public, so anyone can drop by and see what’s up. By clicking on each program, you can also find a brief description about each project. For example, here is a list of projects in my department, Chemical Engineering. I highly recommend that high school applicants and future prospects take a look at all these program listings. These are the best source of information on all the different types of things that students can do, and the wide range may surprise you. For example, many people think that Chemical Engineering is just about oil & gas, but when you look at the list you’ll see electric vehicle batteries, rooftop greenhouse design, biodegradable orthopedic implants, and controlled release antibiotics, among many other things. Anything that involves materials and energy transformations is a possible chemical engineering project.
I like looking at the Management Engineering projects too. These projects nicely emphasize that Management Engineering is not a business program (a frequent misconception with some applicants), but it is an engineering program full of math, statistical and data analysis, and optimization. The project on “Reducing Distribution Costs for Canadian Blood Services” looks quite interesting to me (stochastic modelling is always interesting!).
I haven’t had a chance to look through all the different programs and their projects yet, but I’m sure a few will soon end up as start-up companies, if they haven’t already. These capstone design projects have probably been the biggest single source of Waterloo start-ups in the last decade, I suspect. There are now quite a few sources of financial support and design awards for the most innovative of these projects, as listed on the webpage, together with the support offered through the Velocity entrepreneurship and Conrad BET Centre programs, and others.