CAPSTONE Programs Underway
Vol.8 Issue 8

The Aeronautical Center’s Capstone Programs are a great way for students to get real-world experience while the workforce gains assistance in completing projects and obtains fresh insight. In 2021, The University of Oklahoma’s (OU) Price College of Business picked up initial workforce research during the fall semester. The success of the first semester paved the way for follow-on research during the spring of 2022 and now for the fall semester of 2022. The Price College of Business has become a great partner, and the FAA Academy is looking forward to continuing our research efforts with them in the coming years.

As we continue to build and align with the workforce of the future, Capstone programs offer special insight. The research project with OU’s Price College of Business focuses on how workforce demographics and norms are changing within the younger generations who are coming out of the high school and college/university systems. This is being done in the context of rapid technological advances that favor learning, communication, and societal drivers that younger demographics are accustomed to operating within. However, this may be a challenge to the current established workforce. Knowing the nexus of a changing workforce and accelerating technology is a key aspect to in developing an innovative training roadmap that connects the FAA Academy to the workforce of the future.

University students collaborate during a Capstone project

Early on, members of the FAA Academy realized discussions regarding workforce research which is learned from industry and academia was an avenue that had multiple advantages. The first semester of research focused on looking at the commercial space industry and the nature of the workforce for those companies. It was eye-opening when comparing the demographics of SpaceX and the FAA.

To date, approximately 50 students have worked on FAA research during the 3 semesters of Capstone activity. The University of Oklahoma provided a mix of undergraduate and graduate students who worked the research project as a real-world scenario. In fact, this is as real as it gets, and the nature of the research is a true client/provider partnership. Student teams generate a Statement of Work at the beginning of a semester, they provide a presentation for client buy-in, then spend most of the semester compiling research data, and they finally present the final reports at the end of the semester. This is all accomplished under the guidance of OU faculty.

The workforce research is divided up to fit within individual college semesters, which is approximately 14 weeks. A benefit from the relationship with the Price College of Business is the ability to structure the research, to build cumulatively on top of the preceding semesters. When new student teams start at the beginning of the semester, they now have the work of previous student teams to springboard off of, and it truly gives them a running start and dramatically reduces start-up time.

The Statement of Work is developed early at the beginning of each semester, and is the measuring stick for evaluation from both the FAA Academy and the Price College of Business. To date, the effort has been a total success for both entities. The quality of research generated from the student teams is very high and has produced some surprising results. The high-visibility nature of the research has also led to multiple job offers from corporate America for some of the students who have participated.

Many wonder how this program worked during the COVID health crisis. The first semester of research at OU was done with students physically attending on campus. This allowed FAA personnel to interact with the student teams according to FAA and OU health protocols. That approach incorporated to more of in-person team meetings as preventive COVID measures changed during the spring and fall semesters of 2022.

When thinking about the success of the Capstone program, research efforts with OU have become very rewarding parts of some federal employees’ careers! Working with highly motivated students to tackle real world problems is an amazing experience that will open one’s eyes to a new world of communication, technology, and overcoming challenges. Just having the opportunity to work with a highly organized student effort creates benefits for participating organizations through team interaction alone; not to mention the quality of research that these types of endeavors are capable of generating. One lesson learned during the first 3 semesters of workforce research is that student teams perform at higher levels in proportion to the amount invested in them. Spending time with the teams to ensure they understand the scope of effort, the mission of the FAA, and resources needed will take you a long way towards a rewarding and successful workplace partnership.

The University of Oklahoma PRICE College of Business
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