Engineering Students Get a Capstone Experience like No Other
Vol.6 Issue 4

The survival of any industry depends on the adoption of new ideas and talents, taking advantage of new technologies and utilizing new methods to best accomplish any given task. At the same time, industries require a wealth of knowledge and experience to best use proven technologies and methods while providing stability and reliability. When experienced members of the industry work with universities to mentor students, it allows students to gain the experience they need to quickly become productive members of the industry, and in turn the students bring a fresh set of eyes and ideas to keep the industry moving forward.

For years Dr. Baha Jassemnejad, formerly the head of the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO)’s engineering department and currently Artic Slope Regioinal Corporation (ASRC) Federal’s technical manager for the FAA’s Oklahoma Communications Engineering Team at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, has used his connections both within the industry and at the university level throughout Oklahoma to provide students with industry-relevant projects for their senior Capstone projects and internships. Jonathan Adams, a senior engineer at the Aeronautical Center and former student and intern under Dr. Jassemnejad, joined with him again to work as a team leading several Senior Design projects. Together, they have provided projects and internships to UCO students, helping lead students to successful recruitment in the aerospace industry and in some cases, even as fellow Aeronautical Center engineering employees. This year, Jassemnejad and Adams were able to expand this endeavor beyond UCO and submitted FAA Capstone projects to the University of Oklahoma (OU), Oklahoma State University (OSU), Oklahoma Christian University (OC), and UCO. To assist in this venture, they turned to their fellow Aeronautical Center FAA OK Communications Engineering Team (comprised of senior engineers) to act as mentors for the university students. Igor Ilic, Terry Womack, and Philip Sinnett joined Jassemnejad and Adams in mentoring twenty-four students in six Capstone/senior design project teams across three universities. Of course, this undertaking would not have been feasible and successful without the unwavering support of Jack Rouse and Don Fitts, FAA mangers for the Interfaculty Communications Engineering Team at the Aeronautical Center.

Four projects were submitted and accepted by the universities, with multiple teams being allowed to select the same project. The first project was to create a custom Data AcQuisition device (DAQ) to be used in sending and acquiring voice range analog signals to test voice switch systems. This project was accepted by teams from UCO and OU. The second project involved creating a control unit to interface with a Power Distribution Panel for a satellite dish heating system in Alaska. This project was accepted by a team from OU. The third project required developing a standalone impedance measuring device that utilizes a hybrid circuit to measure the reflected signals from an analog voice system. This project was accepted by two teams from OU. The final project involved using LabVIEW to create an application to automate the Standing Wave Ratio test that validates cables being used in an Alaskan satellite system. This project was accepted by a team from OSU. Each project was assigned one or two mentors, who would be responsible for explaining the project deliverables and aid in giving technical guidance.

Each of the projects progressed smoothly. The mentors traveled to meet the students and professors at the universities and the students traveled to the Aeronautical Center to tour the facilities and learn how their projects and experience could be put to best use. The students were able to use the equipment and resources at the universities and the Aeronautical Center to get hands-on experience to solve industry-related problems. But then, amidst all the academic, real-world activity, during each school’s spring break, the COVID-19 outbreak occurred.

Suddenly, students were not able to access tools or equipment from the universities or the Aeronautical Center. Mentors were not able to meet with the students, and the students were not even able to meet with each other. But engineers, are known for being resourceful. Teleconferences were arranged between the mentors, the students, and their professors to discuss what tools the students had and the expectations of deliverables. Unfortunately, all of the hardware aspects of the projects had to be dropped due to a lack of resources for the students. However, a shift of focus in the design and software aspects of the projects made up for the lack of hardware. Schematics, block diagrams, simulations, software code, and reports all had to be made, not just so that the current students could use them to create the project deliverables, but so that a student in the next semester’s Capstone program could pick up where they left off.

As the semester came to an end, the students gave their final presentations, submitted their deliverables, and will attend their graduations – virtually. Many of the Capstone students have already received job offers in the industry. A number of the students have already been hired to join as engineers at the Aeronautical Center. The mentors must now prepare for the next semester of students to continue where this semester’s students left off. We all hope that the next semester will go more smoothly than this one did, but we did observe that the mentors, the universities, and the students are ready for any challenge placed before them.

For those FAA colleagues that would like to be involved with mentoring or providing projects to Capstone students, please email: Baha Jassemnjead and Jonathan Adams and Edwar Drake for more information.

Congratulations to all the Capstone students from the 2019-2020 Semester.

Here are some testimonies from their recent Capstone experiences:

Matthew Krol, OU Student.

When my classes were moved online for the two weeks following my Spring Break (and ultimately moved online for the rest of the semester), I realized that the precautions for the sake of health were in fact necessary and justified. However, I could not foresee the effects this new disease was going to have on my final semester of college. . . Although classes were run differently and in-person communication was limited, I felt a great sense of pride in my achievements and stayed motivated.
– Matthew Krol, OU Student

Sara Fazal, OU Student.

Even though this semester presented itself with unforeseen challenges, I was able to learn and expand my knowledge after working with the FAA. . . The lesson I learned by completing this project during a pandemic is; being patient and flexible with not only others but yourself is imperative to persevering.
– Sara Fazal, OU Student

Savannah Pate, OU Student.

I had taken for granted the team’s ability to sit down in the ECE building and hash out ideas; which was impossible after the outbreak. This year’s Capstone helped me learn what to do and what not to do when managing a remote project. Communication is key, especially when life is difficult and we are unable to meet in person. I am disappointed that we were unable to complete the project and create a working prototype, but I think this experience was still a valuable one.
– Savannah Pate, OU Student

Collin Todd, OU Student.

This semester was a learning experience in many ways. . . I think it is safe to say that everyone on the team learned more about staying flexible with project plans than anything else. With that being said, this Capstone project still allowed a good amount of software development to continue, and was very helpful to a lot of us in gaining experience with a software team project.
– Collin Todd, OU Student

Joshua Ullman, OU Student.

Overall, this pandemic truly opened my eyes to real-world difficulties in the workplace and how to adapt to those situations. Therefore, I became an engineer to adapt and overcome any obstacle. I would like to thank Dr. Fitzmorris as well as our Project Leaders from the FAA for providing my peers with an opportunity to shine.
– Joshua Ullman, OU Student

Troy Mathew, UCO Student.

I had to learn electrical concepts that I haven't learned about to keep up with my partners. I'm glad they were my partners as I learned a lot from them, and doing this project helped me to explore new concepts that I wouldn't think I would face. . . We worked well as a team and managed to get our tasks done in a timely fashion. I'm thankful for Jonathan and the FAA for allowing me to work on this project for them, and for the experience I gained throughout the semester.
– Troy Mathew, UCO Student

Devin Dennis, OU Student.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out I was nearly finished with all of the hardware designs and was beginning to put together a prototype board. So when it was announced that all of campus would be shut down - as well as the labs - and I would not have access to any of the hardware needed to complete my design, it basically ended my portion of the Capstone project. . . However, it is not fair to say that I didn't take away a vast amount of experience from this project. Instead of revising my design with hands-on techniques, I was forced to re-read datasheets in deep detail to determine revisions for my design.
– Devin Dennis, OU Student

Testimonials from this semester’s faculty advisors:

Dr. Cliff Fitzmorris, Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma.

As the semester progressed, it became clear that this semester’s students would get an experience that most Capstone courses don’t provide. This semester’s students learned how to quickly adapt a project to a large disruption that is not only unprecedented but also out of their control. . . Fortunately, due to the diligence of the FAA engineering team, we were ahead of schedule and held both the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and the Critical Design Review (CDR) for the four projects before Spring Break. . . Working together with the FAA engineers, we modified the project to meet two goals: 1) To simulate as much of the design as possible to show that the design approach was solid and 2) To document each project thoroughly so the project could be picked up in the following semester with minimal loss of progress. . . Again, I would like to thank (Jonathan Adams and the FAA OK Communications Engineering Team), Igor, and Dr. Baha for the time and effort that they’ve put into the project. The students have mentioned to me how much they've appreciated working with practicing engineers, so their effort has had a direct impact on the students’ careers.
– Dr. Cliff Fitzmorris, Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Dr. Colin Doyle, Adjunct Instructor at UCO.

I really only have positive feedback. The FAA OK Communications Engineering Team did a great job advising the students and I thought the feedback and direction that you provided the students were very direct and on point.
– Dr. Colin Doyle, Adjunct Instructor at UCO

Dr. Mike Gard, Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor at OSU.

By 20 March, it had been determined that students would be discouraged from returning to the campus and all the other restrictions with which we're now familiar. All classes were to be done by distance learning. . . Scope of the Senior Design projects changed from fabrication and testing to analysis and simulation. This was a challenge for all class projects, not just the one being done for FAA. Students and faculty rose to the occasion and made it work.
– Dr. Mike Gard, Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor at OSU.

Testimonials from the FAA’s OK Communications Engineering Team Mentors:

Jonathan Adams, Senior Engineer at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center.

Of course, I wish things had not gone the way they have but I am extremely happy with how everyone handled these extreme circumstances. Everyone was responsive and quickly adapted to the virtual forms of communication. I am glad to have colleagues who can adapt to changing circumstances while continuing to support the students, and I am proud of the students who continued to do their best. I look forward to continuing to work with universities in the future to give graduating students the experience they need to become productive members of the industry, and possibly joining our team at the Aeronautical Center.
– Jonathan Adams, Senior Engineer at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center

Igor Ilic, Engineer at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center.

I was very impressed with how everyone involved was very responsive and flexible. Together we were able to keep the students and ourselves safe, while still maintaining a set of realistic deliverables for their project. The students were very accommodating, organizing an additional team meeting per my request, and providing feedback when prompted. . . My only regrets are not getting to spend more time getting our hands dirty along with the students, and reviewing the coding, looking at the hardware design, interfacing with our existing equipment, etc.. . . Regardless, everybody involved was professional and the students provided extensive documentation of the work being accomplished.
– Igor Ilic, Engineer at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center

Philip Sinnett, Senior Engineer at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center.

The team did a thorough investigation of the assigned project and demonstrated a good understanding of the electronics that are required to carry out the project. . . The material list was lacking some details in packaging and hardware. However, given unusual circumstances, the design package seemed ready for construction of a prototype.
– Philip Sinnett, Senior Engineer at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center

Terry Womack, Senior Engineer at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center.

Overall, I believe the hardware is well documented, especially given the fact that the current environment limits the design to a paper-only exercise. . . The team should also be commended for their thoroughness and professionalism when presenting their ideas and progress on the project when we met with them on the OU campus, as well as on follow-up teleconferences.
– Terry Womack, Senior Engineer at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center

Dr. Baha Jassemnejad, Technical Manager at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center.

The aim of this mentoring of engineering students by the senior engineers at the FAA in MMAC is to help with the student’s professional and personal development in their journey to become knowledgeable, skilled, productive and ethical citizen engineers. This is a venue that hopes to contribute to the economic development for the state of Oklahoma and for national security.
– Dr. Baha Jassemnejad, Technical Manager at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center

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