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life of the mind Senior capstone: ‘the toughest class they will ever take’

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f Tosh Kakar has his way, James Crosetto, Jeremy Ellison and Seth Schwiethale will have spent most of their senior year trapped in a project room just off Morken 212. It is a state-of-the-art room adjacent to the electronics lab. This room is theirs for the year, where they will study and experiment – as well as nap on a beatup couch, and work into the wee hours of the night, fueled on carbonated caffeine drinks and delivered pizza. And they’ll be doing it for a mere four credits. Four. “This is the toughest class they will ever take,” says Kakar. “It is equal to 20 credits, easily.” Kakar, an assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering, is advising the trio of students in their senior-year capstone. He will guide and mentor the students for a whole year as they embark on the ambitious project of designing – from scratch – a remote-control car that is operable over the Internet. If the capstone project works as planned, Crosetto, Ellison and Schwiethale will be able to control a remote-control

8 PLU SCENE SPRING 2009 > LIFE OF THE MIND

vehicle from any laptop, so long as it can receive a wireless Internet signal. David Wolff, chair of the Computer Science and Computer Engineering program, calls it “something like the Mars Rover – the principles are similar, but on a smaller scale.” Everyone else, students and Wolff included, call it ambitious.

Such is the life of PLU seniors – the capstone project will be one of the most difficult, challenging and rewarding things they will do at the university. Such is the life of PLU seniors – the capstone project will be one of the most difficult, challenging and rewarding things they will do at the university. It will combine just about everything they have learned over their time at PLU – and then some. “Actually, a lot of the stuff we are encountering we never even learned in class,” said Ellison, a computer science

and computer engineering major from Gig Harbor, Wash. That is no reflection of the classes Ellison took. Instead, it shows that the students are building upon their class lessons as they embark on their capstone. George Hauser, associate professor of computer science and computer engineering and the professor who oversees all the capstone projects in the CSCE department, sees it the same way. “The stuff we are teaching in class are the building blocks for what they will do in their capstone, and what they do after they leave PLU,” he said. Crosetto, Ellison and Schwiethale are up against a tight deadline: the Natural Science Division’s Academic Festival set for May 1 and 2, 2009, in the Morken Center for Learning and Technology. There, all seniors in the natural sciences will present the findings of their capstone research, or the results of their projects. A large number of alumni also attend the festival, some of whom discuss the work they are doing in the industry. Kakar referred to it as “bringing the whole family together.” “Festival” is the operative word here – the event bubbles with excitement,


Scene Magazine - Spring 2009