Here’s How a UT Dallas’ Program Is Connecting Engineering Students With Corporations to Solve Real-World Problems

It's a win-win. Companies can collaborate with senior engineering and computer science students at UTD to find high-level creative solutions to challenges. Corporate sponsors play one of the largest roles in the program—and receive results, work, and intellectual property when it's completed.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or part of a larger corporation, chances are you have more projects than you can handle. The University of Texas at Dallas has found an affordable, efficient way to address that problem, while still ensuring business professionals get the result they want.

It’s a win-win for companies and students, according to UT Dallas.

Companies collaborate with senior engineering and computer science students to find high-level creative solutions to technical and engineering challenges through the UT Dallas program. For students, partnering with industry leaders through the UTDesign Capstone program, students are able to flex their innovative abilities by solving real-world problems.

So far, the intensive program has had 3,811 students complete capstone projects and about 786 corporate-sponsored projects. Previous corporate sponsors include Texas Instruments, Cisco, Raytheon Technologies, Tektronix, and Newark.

The program in action

Earlier this month, UTDesign gave emergency room workers a much-needed hand with its innovative ultrasound probe solution that frees up staff and reduces the risk of COVID-19 exposure. The device students came up with is now used in the ER at UT Southwestern Medical Center on a daily basis.

With the guidance of mentor Dr. Carlos Trigo, an emergency medicine physician at UTSW, the UTDesign team enhanced a portable ultrasound machine so hospital workers could install a sterile probe cover without assistance–even working one handed.

The mechanism to hold the probe is made of a flexible material that allows doctors to move it in any direction and install the cover without coming in contact with surfaces that weren’t sterile.

Trigo recently filed a patent on the design, UTD says.

The UTDesign cohort works to ensure investments in knowledge pay interest and make the world a better place. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, this device means that fewer medical personnel are needed inside a patient’s room to perform these procedures, which equals fewer unnecessary exposures,” Dr. Trigo said in a UTD blog post. He was so impressed with the students’ work, he sponsored a related project during the current academic year.

utd student ultrasound probe team

The ultrasound student team at UTD includes(from left) Madeline Powers, Eric Busch, Carlos Ramirez, Minh Nguyen, Shahrzad Shahabi, and Rebecca Finney.

Award-winning efforts

Through the program, UT Dallas students have made solving company challenges a mission–and received national accolades for their efforts. 

In 2019, corporate sponsor Corning Inc., a New York-based company with locations in Fort Worth that make fiber-optic cables asked a team of UTD’s mechanical engineering students to design a “fast and accurate system to dispense glue and assemble components during the manufacturing process for a new line of cables.”

A six-student team meet the challenge and took first place at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference, hosted by Penn State Behrend that year. It was the fifth consecutive year that a Comets team took first place, UTD says.

Team members spent many hours–and several all-nighters–perfecting a glue-dispensing system and creating a new assembly process for Corning.

According to Corning product engineer Heru Santoso, “the students had the skills, innovative ideas and passion to deliver an excellent solution” for a problem at one of its manufacturing plants: Glue was being applied manually at inconsistent drop locations during the assembly of its new line of cables.

“I’m very happy and impressed with the level of details that they provided while still maintaining the completion of the project in a timely manner,” Santoso said in a UTD blog post at the time. “Not only did they deliver the prototype of the system, but they also provided thorough documentation to enable us to refine the system in the future.”

“Thinking, working, struggling, failing, and repeating as a team over and over is what eventually led to success,” said Keaton Adcock, the team’s leader.

The UTDesign team not only met the challenge, but it also won first place at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference, hosted by Penn State Behrend in June.

That year, another UTDesign team received the second-place award in the ASME competition for a project for sponsor Encore Wire Corp. in McKinney. The designed an automated machine “that could remove a 1- to 2-foot sample of plastic insulation from a moving cable without slowing or stopping the cable. Encore needed the technology to test the thickness of the insulation,” according to UTD.

Here’s how the UTDesign program works

At UT Dallas, every engineering and computer science senior is required to complete a team-oriented capstone project (a senior design course). All UTDesign projects are proposed, sponsored, and mentored by external companies. The project gives students hands-on design experience, puts their project-management and problem-solving skills to the test, and allows them to work in a professional environment.

The UTDesign Studio offers more than 40,000 square feet of ideation, fabrication, assembly, test, and meeting space for students from UTDesign Capstone, EPICS, Makerspace, and Startup. 

During the length of the project, students work to determine the ideal customer’s needs, develop preliminary designs, and find the necessary specifications and requirements for their project. 

The UTDesign Capstone is a win-win for companies and students

Through the program, companies are able to progress on challenging or lower-priority projects without expending their staff resources. It also gives them the potential to earn a high return on a small investment. Companies are given the opportunity to promote their brands among students, other sponsors, and the community, and can platform to recruit top graduates from a diverse pool of UTD students. 

Corporate sponsors play one of the largest roles in the program. Each team is coached by two advisors: a UT Dallas advisor, who is an expert or has some degree of technical familiarity with the project, and a corporate mentor, who acts as the technical point of contact for the company. The corporate partner provides the problem to be solved; UTDesign Capstone provides a diverse team equipped to think critically, manage projects, and solve problems.

At the end of a project, all results, work, and intellectual property is turned over to the company. 

In order for students to enhance the industry, corporations must be willing to extend their resources. Funding from corporate partners supports UTDesign Capstone projects by providing materials, licensing, studio facilities, staff, and a UT Dallas Advisor. On average per semester, computer science and software engineering projects are priced at $10,000 and engineering projects at $15,000. However, there is $2,000 discount if the project proposal has been submitted through UTDesign Capstone portal 30 days before the semester begins.

Company involvement is crucial for the success of the project and the learning process for the student. To help the team succeed, the corporate mentor must be willing to: foster teamwork, encourage high-quality communication and professionalism, assist the students with new technology used in the company, and set and motivate the team to reach goals. 

With the right mentors, UT Dallas says its students have been able to reach new heights. 

Quincy Preston contributed to this story. The story was updated on Feb. 25, 2021, with additional program details.

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