February 24, 2022Giving Back to the Civil Engineering Profession as a Mentor

An insight into Texas A&M University's spring semester capstone classes, and the mentoring process.

For the past ten years, Mike McInturff, PE, PTOE of Kittelson LLC has served as a guest lecturer and mentor for civil engineering undergraduate and graduate capstone classes at Texas A&M University (TAMU). The University’s spring semester capstone classes provide an excellent opportunity for senior and graduate students to work on a team with other students to complete a semester-long project. Project teams consist of 4-5 students who work together as a mock consulting engineering firm to develop a project based on an assignment provided by the course instructor. Generally, there are 5-6 teams per class, with one mentor per team. Each mentor is a practicing civil engineer and has volunteered to assist throughout the semester.

The Assignment

Team assignments generally include the development of a roadway project such as widening from two lanes to four lanes, alignment design of a bypass route around a city, addition of lanes to a freeway, or similar types of projects. At the beginning of the semester, each team is assigned a project, and the requirement to accomplish several tasks at scheduled times, generally consisting of the following:

  1. Prepare a 2-page document describing the qualifications of the team. This includes who is responsible for which aspects of the project, and proposing a schedule for the work to be accomplished.
  2. Identify and collect relevant data needed for design and submit a one-page summary listing the documents read and data collected, including “hypothetical” data assumed.
  3. Define and describe the current conditions/characteristics of the area along the proposed corridor (do-nothing alternative).
  4. Define and document design controls and highway classification (grades, minimum radius, etc.).
  5. Identify two alternative cross-sections (width characteristics of the cross section) and discuss the characteristics of the selected or preferred alignment/cross-section and justify the selection.
  6. Describe how the cross-sections impact humans and the environment; describe how to conduct public hearings to explain the goals and support the project.
  7. Conduct a preliminary design for the preferred alignment (horizontal and vertical; cross-section; and structures).
  8. Conduct an economic analysis (construction and user costs only) of preferred alignment.
  9. Design the pavement, sub-base, side-slope and the pavement marking scheme of the highway.
  10. Perform a basic design of any structures, such as overpasses and bridges.
  11. Design key intersections for the preferred alignment.

The Mentor

The mentor’s involvement begins with a meeting with the team shortly after the project assignment to get to know each of the students, learn about their academic and work backgrounds and share information about the mentor’s background and professional experience. As a result of this initial meeting, the students and mentor develop a basis for free and open communication for the semester. Mentor assistance varies with the type of project and experience of the students. It may consist of answering questions about technical details, providing references for use in the student’s research and reviewing draft documents and graphics. Students prepare two presentations, with the first upon completion of Tasks 1 through 6 and the final presentation. After each of the presentations, students may ask questions of the presenting team, followed by comments and questions from the mentors.

Giving Back

Serving as a mentor provides a rewarding opportunity to interact with students preparing for the beginning of their professional careers. It allows the mentor to share his or her extensive experience in addressing various issues and enables the students to learn of practical solutions from someone accomplished in the profession to supplement the academic and technical knowledge gained by the students during the pursuit of their degrees. In addition, mentors can continue to encourage students by assisting in approach to solutions, guidance on presentation considerations and general positive guidance as they approach the end of their academic careers.

Call Kittelson LLC at (979) 693-5800, or email Mike McInturff at mmcinturff@kittelson.com to learn more about mentoring.