Tech Seniors Team Up on Social and Business Challenges

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This spring, students in Georgia Tech’s interdisciplinary design studio invented new products and processes for clients ranging from a multinational airline to a nonprofit promoting economic development in Africa. The project teams will join 35 others to compete in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering’s Senior Capstone Design Expo on Thursday, April 28, at 6:00 pm, in Tech’s Marcus Nanotechnology Building.
Students in mechanical engineering, environmental engineering and industrial design, were grouped into small, interdisciplinary project teams. They worked with actual project coordinators from sponsor organizations to design, test, prototype and evaluate their inventions. Projects included:

  • Sports clubhouses and community centers fabricated from shipping containers for rural South African communities with S20 Design and the South African Olympic Committee
  • A sleek, modular shelving unit made of lightweight yet durable material for compact furniture company Stoe Living 
  • A mobile kiln that converts biomass into charcoal, eliminating harmful kitchen smoke and reducing deforestation for ACREST: African Centre for Renewable Energy & Sustainable Technology in Cameroon
  • A manufacturing process for biomass briquettes (made of plantain leaves and rice husks) for rural Nicaraguan communities that burns five times more efficiently than wood for Amigos for Christ, an NGO founded by Georgia Tech alumnus John Bland (MgtSci 1983)
  • An active lifestyle baby stroller that morphs between jogging and carriage modes for Orbit Baby
  • A study of food and beverage service carts for Delta 
  • Smart beverage coolers designed for the front end of big box retailers for Coca-Cola

Tech professors Jon Colton, Jim Budd and Wayne Li co-teach the studio, which aims to teach students the art and science of design. The studio balances the core undergraduate instruction of innovation, a topic of rising importance, with a multi-disciplinary problem-based approach to engineering with human values, social entrepreneurship and global well being. 

“The studio is patterned after multi-disciplinary design consultancies like IDEO and Design Edge that work in small teams of engineers, designers and social scientists,” said Li, Oliver Professor of Practice of Design and Engineering. “The benefit that comes from diversity of thought is that, when you collaborate, the ideas get richer.”

For some students, this was their first experience with the studio model of education. “It’s important to have a studio so the students have a place to 'live,' where their project exists,” said Colton, Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “It’s also important to have the students co-located so they can work with each other, see what the others are doing, ask questions and get inspiration.”

In most cases the projects will be refined by sponsor organizations. For the humanitarian projects, sponsors may seek donors to invest in the ideas or advocate market adoption.

Students walk away with a full report that they can showcase in job interviews, setting them apart from graduates of other engineering or design programs. 


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Teri Nagel
  • Created:04/26/2011
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016