Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that the test track emergency shutdown system project was voted by students as "Best Project."

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 13, 2015 – Sixteen teams of upper-level engineering students recently completed a new capstone design course in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

The two-semester course, developed by professor and department head Luke Lester and the department's Industrial Advisory Board, paired teams with industry sponsors that included Lockheed Martin, General Electric, General Motors, Northrop Grumman, and Johns Hopkins, and also included one project from Virginia Tech’s Division of Information Technology.  

The course provided students with a technical design experience, combined with an industry-like environment, to strengthen students’ business, project management, and teamwork skills. Team sponsors contributed $5,000 per project and committed to spend four hours per month in the role of the customer. 

Gino Manzo, a professor of practice in the department and an electronics industry veteran, served as the lead instructor and coordinator of the program. Manzo emphasizes that people-oriented skills (including project management, teamwork, and client communication) are critical to industry. 

“Over my career, I’ve hired many young, graduating engineers,” he says. “My peers and I never question the technical talents of these graduates, but we always worry about them fitting into our teams. Will they get along? Will they be responsive leaders?”

During each project, the students go though a full business cycle, beginning with responding to a request for a proposal, developing the statement of work and technical specifications, negotiating deliverables, designing and developing the technology, conducting initial simulations, and proceeding to a final turnover of the project. The course emphasizes business process and professional development — including building leadership and teamwork skills, listening skills, and identifying strengths and weaknesses. 

“With this model, everybody is a winner,” says Manzo. “Industry participants have the opportunity to expose students to the human side of what they are learning in school, and may also be able to audition potential hires over the course of the year.” Students gain exposure to what work in industry is really like, and gain an opportunity to build their networks.

More than a dozen firms of all sizes sponsored projects covering a range of technologies and applications. 

A team's effort to design a mobile, single sign-on interface was voted "Best Project" by guests attending a poster session on Wednesday, April 29.

The project, proposed by Virginia Tech's Identity Management Services, was the only project in the course entirely focused on software development among all the projects. Part of the Division of Information Technology, Identity Management Services provides secure electronic identity and authorizations management for all users of Virginia Tech data networks.

Most native mobile applications are accessed over open networks, and store passwords individually, which can create security risks and poor user experiences. It also results in an ever-growing list of passwords to remember and change. 

Team members Zack Bubb, from Germantown, Maryland, Christopher Dorick, from Manassas, Virginia,  Nathan McCloskey, from Houston, Texas, and Cameron Spiller, from Brooklyn, New York, worked to develop software that will allow a user to securely access multiple mobile applications or services associated with an organization with only one sign-on. 

“This is a great example of direct educational engagement, where the Division of Information Technology is helping to provide meaningful educational opportunities for students,” said J. Scot Ransbottom, chief of staff and deputy chief information officer. 

Karen Herrington, director of identity management services and project sponsor, praised the work of the four-member team. 

“The team was enthusiastic and hard-working; they had a great grasp of the problem and the technologies needed to produce a viable solution. They showed maturity in their thorough design process and even proposed additional capabilities that allow more flexibility in implementation. 

"Additionally, I really saw an evolution in their communication style and project management abilities over the duration of the project. The team's solution paves the way for new mobile apps at Virginia Tech that will protect user credentials while offering the convenience that mobile users desire. I was proud to be a part of this project.” 

Other final projects included:

  • Simultaneous programming of multiple identification tags, General Electric
  • Web-enabled high voltage waveform generator, General Electric
  • Test track emergency shutdown system, General Motors / Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (Voted by students as "Best Project")
  • Wireless sensor interface for data acquisition, General Motors / Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
  • Reliability of low K interconnect structures, Intel Corporation
  • Self-organizing coherent distributed radio frequency transmitter, Johns Hopkins
  • Infrared sea surface temperature sensor, Johns Hopkins
  • Asymmetric material design analog circuit, Lockheed Martin
  • Data stream compression and encryption IC, Lockheed Martin
  • Design/fabricate/evaluate photovoltaic cells, Micron Technology
  • Sensorless magnetic levitation system, National Instruments
  • High-speed switch fabric: Modems to transceivers, Northrop Grumman
  • Fluxgate magnetometer drive, Prime Photonics
  • IEEE Robot, VT Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Mobile single sign-on with an open token agent, VT Information Technology
  • Radiation test methodologies, hardware, test database; VPT, Inc.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.