How COVID-19 Has Affected Capstones

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many upsets for people. The closure of the ERAU campus due to government mandates also forced school labs to close, which has had a big impact on capstone projects. 

Two students whose work was heavily affected by the lab closure are senior Kyle Lutterman, an Aerospace Engineering major – Aero track and junior Phil Norton, a Mechanical Engineering major – Robotics track. Both students were working on aerospace capstones. 

Lutterman’s capstone consists of “working on an aerodynamic system for a sponsor… Building that from the ground up from a preliminary design phase based on theory and analysis.” With the shutting down of the labs, Lutterman, who is head of his capstone team, said that all his team can do is write up the final reports for the company without the last tests and data. While the team did not necessarily require labs for their work, the project was dependent on certain software available only on school computers to run their tests. 

Norton was building a lunar rover: “The project is called ‘Marley.’ The idea is that the rover would have supplies for an astronaut, and it would follow the astronaut around like a dog … so that they could be more hands-free.” According to Norton, his capstone cannot move forward without the labs. He and another team member will finish the coding part of the project, but he said that the capstone will not be finished this semester. 

Lutterman and Norton brought up some interesting points when it came to professors and classes. Some professors seem to be handling the change rather well and guiding their students to a finish that they can be proud of given the circumstances. Lutterman said the professors overseeing his project, Dr. Crisler and Dr. Beck, are “focused on making sure we are healthy and safe, but also allowing us to finish what we can, and do something that we’ll be proud of.” Other professors seemed to be floundering or not putting forth much effort, and this is seriously affecting the students. Many worry that, with the online format, the quality of education will go down because without direct contact with the professor, they are not able to ask questions, and their professors are often not available for questions through email or text. As Norton pointed out, the state of the education is “not what we paid for. The university is trying to keep education going, but we didn’t pay for online classes; we paid for in-person classes.” Despite the hiccups, both students appeared optimistic and hope that these changes to capstone projects would not affect their grade or graduation date. 

Overall, the COVID-19 virus has wreaked havoc on capstone projects. The projects listed above are just two examples of capstones that have been affected by this virus. Teams are finding different ways to deal with all of this, from cancellations to postponements. As for classes, it seems that only time will tell how satisfied students will be with the education they will receive for the rest of the semester. As Lutterman notes, “we are all struggling with it … The school is trying to do its best, but I think that it’s important that we all realize that they’re going to make some mistakes … We’re both learning through this process, so if someone does make a mistake, it’s not an opportunity to hard-bomb them and get down on them. It’s important that we all be lenient with each other and take care of each other.” Those are optimistic words that people should try to remember in this time of uncertainty.