Identifying effective student leaders to improve capstone design team assignments

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Engineers in industry are required to work in teams to accomplish large goals. Similarly, engineering students often work in teams in course projects cornerstone through capstone. The stakes of capstone design projects are often high as teams work together to address a large design problem. However, the success of these student teams is highly variable and often related to key team personnel, especially those students whose work catalyzes their team to work successfully toward achieving project objectives. This work-in-progress investigates the common characteristics of effective student leaders in engineering team projects. This multi-method study employed purposeful sampling to identify top-performing teams from the past four semesters of a capstone design course in a mechanical engineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the first phase of the study, faculty advisors of those teams were contacted for complete semi-structured interviews to share their perspectives regarding individual students' contributions. The second phase of the study focused on the students of these successful teams (i.e. alumni), especially any team members who are identified as the catalyst for the team's success. Alumni of the course (n = 5) participated in semi-structured interviews concerning their backgrounds, college leadership experiences, and leadership preferences. The research team inductively coded all transcripts from the interviews to develop common themes that could relate to personality traits, upbringing, education, work experiences, and others. Results of this study suggest 'servant leadership style is a common theme across students and have implications for the development and implementation of new leadership curricula in project-based courses, which may be implemented earlier in the degree program rather than the senior year.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number788
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 22 2020
Event2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jun 22 2020Jun 26 2020


  • Capstone
  • Leadership
  • Qualitative Methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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