First-ever EngCon Helps Make FYDP a Little Less Scary

Are you a typical engineering student who has no idea what they’re going to do for their Fourth Year Design Project? Are you intimidated by the logistics of such a massive project? Or are wondering how to turn your brilliant idea into a start-up? If you answered yes to any of those questions, EngCon would have been the event for you! Representatives from industry and prominent faculty members met in E5 on Saturday to give a series of talks about Capstone projects. The talks covered all aspects of FYDP, from how to dream up ideas for new technologies that will change the world, to how to turn your idea into a successful start-up, to how to design a product that will truly resonate with end users. Other workshops included a demonstration of tips and tricks you didn’t know you could do with an oscilloscope, and presentations on technologies such as LabView for data acquisition. Students were invited to attend whichever talks they thought were interesting, and also got to chat with the representatives from companies such as Keysight Technologies, National Instruments, and Misumi.
One of the talks that struck me as being very engaging and useful was Prof. David Wang’s talk about “Creativity and the Capstone Project”. Prof. Wang, who has, in his time at the University, overseen over a hundred Fourth Year Design Projects, presented an analogy for the engineering design process by talking about his band, Critical Mass. Often, when writing a song, he’ll start with lyrics and ask the musicians of the band to put music to his words. Usually, he’ll get back a couple of snippets from each person, but none of them is long enough to be a song on its own. When you put all of those snippets together, though, you can get a piece of music that sounds really good. Similarly, if each team member of an FYDP comes to the table with a couple of ideas for problems they want to solve, putting some of those ideas together results in a project that can not only bring a solution to a real-world problem, but that the whole team can also be invested in.
Prof. Wang also talked briefly about the logistics of FYDP, offering pieces of advice like “Order your parts before the midterm”, “Make sure you’re going out and talking to real people about the problem you want to solve”, and most of all, “Underpromise and overdeliver”. Later on, keynote speaker Kate Wilhelm from D2L talked about “Creating Products that Matter”, giving a list of points students should consider when embarking on Capstone projects, such as making sure there really is a need for the project (“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”), looking outside of our own echo chambers, and using verbs instead of features to describe a product.
EngCon was a helpful event for engineering students, especially those in 3B who are starting to look into ideas for Capstone projects. I was really impressed by the overall organization of the event, and would be excited to attend again the next time the Engineering Ideas Clinic runs EngCon. Thanks to this event, I feel more prepared to deal with the FYDP when it comes along. But most of all, I think it helps UW live up to its motto. As Prof. Bedi put it, “You came here as aspiring engineers with a dream to solve the world’s problems… And then first year happened. We don’t let you use the labs or do practical things, and so those dreams start to fade. EngCon is built to help give you ideas for problems you can solve, so that you can achieve those dreams of helping the world.”

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