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The College of Engineering - Chemical Engineering

Junior / Senior Clinic

In the final four semesters of a student's undergraduate career, the Clinics continue with their format of multidisciplinary teamwork with the added dimensions of year-long projects and the organization of Junior- and Senior-level students into teams of 3-5 students.  These teams are formed based on the particular needs of a project.  For example an engineering clinic team could be composed of 1 junior and 1 senior chemical engineering, 1 Junior mechanical engineering and a senior chemist.  As you can see there is an integration of Junior and Senior students from all engineering disciplines as well as disciplines in chemistry, biological science, computer science and business.  The common laboratory times are Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  During this time period no other junior or senior engineering classes are scheduled.  All engineering professors in the college are project managers for these clinic projects.  Each team works closely with one or two professors (in many cases from two disciplines) who act as Project Managers to guide the team.  Formal meetings with engineering clinic team members, faculty project managers and industrial representatives are usually scheduled on a weekly basis.

Background

This section contains background information on the junior/senior engineering clinic program.  The first section illustrates the extensive work required to obtain engineering clinic projects and then offer them to the students.  This continues with the overall structure and timing of engineering clinic projects during the academic year.  A listing of the benefits to the student and the industrial partner follow.  The section on the Junior/Senior engineering clinic concludes with examples of previous engineering clinic projects.

Junior/Senior Engineering Clinic Project Formulation

The typical engineering clinic project starts well before the first day of the semester, and the preliminary work in defining a project and securing funding requires a substantial time investment by the faculty members.  The initial contact between a professor and a scientist or engineer from a regional company often results from a connection made through a professional society meeting, recruiting event, student internship, or newspaper article about the university or company. 

Representatives of the interested company are invited to the university for an informational visit.  They are introduced to the unique nature of the Engineering Clinics and the particular advantages that the flexible nature of the clinic sequence offers their company.  The representatives also receive a brief overview of the expertise and interests of the college faculty members, while the faculty learn about the engineering priorities of the company.  After this visit, interested faculty members often visit the plant site.

The next stage is to match faculty interest with the operations of the company.  Then further meetings are set up to brainstorm and sketch out project ideas.  Professors research these ideas to develop and scope the difficulty level of the project to upper level engineering students.  The professor must also engineer the project to have outcomes that can be achieved within one and two semesters that will satisfy the students and the sponsor.  Finally a budget is prepared for the project and negotiations are undertaken with the company to finalize the agreement.  The average funding level for one Clinic project is about $30,000.  A confidentiality agreement is established between the company and the university.  Normally, the time between first contact and obtaining a defined and funded clinic project averages about one year.

Prior to the start of the semester, background work should be done so that undergraduate students will be able to “hit the ground running”.  In many cases, a graduate (Masters) student is assigned to the project, and this student would initiate a literature search and become familiar with the technical aspects of the project before the semester begins.  The learning curve is steep for both the graduate student and the faculty member, and the effort required for this aspect of the project should not be underestimated. 

How the Clinic Works during the Academic Year 

When the semester begins, undergraduate students are matched to projects based on their ranked project choices and on the needs of the project.  The professor provides a brief introduction to the project, and the students are required to read introductory material for familiarization.  Early in the semester, typically in the second week, the team meets with industry representatives who provide an overview of their industry as well as a description of the technical problem that is to be addressed.  At this meeting, students begin to develop a rapport with the industry representatives.  They begin to see what aspects of a project are important to industry, that industry has very short deadlines, and that they expect to see experimental results.  They also see that these projects have a goal that will directly impact the operations of the plant and the engineers and scientists in the meeting room.  Close interaction with industrial representatives is critical to success of the project, and regular meetings continue throughout the semester, typically on a bi-weekly basis.

Students begin immediately to review the technical literature, and then to develop a project plan.  Students then establish a budget and begin to purchase equipment and supplies necessary for their experiments.  Students learn that it is necessary to work diligently and aggressively through this phase of the project due to the inevitable lag time between choosing the equipment and receiving it. 

The student team has weekly meetings with the faculty members involved in the project, as well as regular (biweekly or monthly) informal meetings with the industry representatives.  The frequency of the meetings with the industry representatives depends on their availability and their desired level of involvement in the project.  Our experience has been that frequent meetings are highly beneficial because accountability, progress and results are required.  Formal presentations to the industry are given mid-semester and at the end of the semester. 

These projects also help the program address many of the "softer" skills required by ABET.  Students function in multidisciplinary teams, design and conduct experiments, learn about safety and environmental issues, analyze and interpret data, communicate through oral and written reports, and use modern engineering tools.

In addition to sponsored projects, students are invited each semester to submit proposals to develop their own original inventions through our innovative Venture Capital Fund. Funding of up to $2500 per semester is available for each product development team.

Benefits of Industrial/Academic Interactions in Engineering Clinic

Student’s Perspective

Industry’s Perspective

Example Clinic Projects

Junior Senior Clinic PDF