Seminars & Colloquia

Margaret Heil

Computer Science

"An Overview of the Operation of the NCSU CSC Senior Design Center"

Thursday October 09, 2014 10:30 AM
Location: 1231, EBII (EB2) NCSU Centennial Campus
(Visitor parking instructions)



The North Carolina State University (NCSU) Department of Computer Science (CSC) has established a Senior Design Center (SDC) with the mission of integrating technical projects, teaming, professional communication skills (writing and speaking), and a software development process into an undergraduate capstone design course. The SDC was established in 1994 to facilitate interaction between the Computer Science Department and North Carolina industry for the purpose of providing computer science seniors realistic project experiences by offering a 15-week project course, CSC 492. Students in the course are required to participate in an industrially-sponsored project that must be completed in accordance with a software development process adapted exclusively for CSC 492. Each student is assigned to a team, is expected to contribute to the design, implementation and documentation of a project, and is expected to make at least one technical oral presentation. Individual teams are formed each semester and divided among sections of CSC 492. Each section is team taught by a technical advisor and a certified team specialist/technical communicator. These instructors assist students with technical direction of projects, team coordination, professional communication, and project management. In addition, industrial mentors from sponsoring companies provide project details and work closely with student teams throughout the semester.

During this talk, Ms. Heil will summarize the details of operating the SDC. The process begins with outreach to industrial sponsors, collecting and tailoring project descriptions to suit the needs of the course experience. Issues related to the administration of the SDC will also be covered, including challenges as a result of increased enrollment and number of Senior Design sections. The pedagogical approach used in CSC 492 will be presented, covering the integration of software engineering principles/methodology, technical components, project management, teaming, writing and speaking. A fragment of a lecture traditionally given in CSC 492 will be included in presentation.


Short Bio:

Ms. Margaret R. Scaturro Heil earned her undergraduate degree in Biology and English Literature from McGill University (Montreal Canada) and a Masters degree from North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Technical Communication. She also has a Team Specialist Certification from NCSU's Industrial Extension Service.  Ms. Heil is currently the Interim Director for the NCSU Computer Science Senior Design Center (SDC).  The SDC’s mission is to educate students by providing a real industrial software development problem and by teaching and integrating the principles of software engineering, teamwork, and professional communication in the solution of that problem.  As a technical communicator, Ms. Heil assists students with team formation and development, project management, interpersonal communication, written documentation, and oral technical presentations.  As administrator of the SDC, Ms. Heil coordinates a staff of technical advisors and teaching assistants working with and evaluating students across all sections of Senior Design.  She is also responsible for communicating with SDC sponsors, refining project descriptions in cooperation with SDC technical advisors, and coordinating project set up with departmental IT staff.   In the early years of her career, Ms. Heil worked for Hazleton Laboratories in Madison, Wisconsin as a Study Coordinator – she managed various elements of toxicology studies, including the creation of written documents and client interim reports.  Ms. Heil was then hired by the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Food Science Department, to supervise and manage their renowned Taste Panel operation.  This coordination included scheduling projects and workers as well as the preparation of written client reports.  Ms. Heil also regularly coordinated volunteer groups and was invited to facilitate committees and meetings for various organizations.  These experiences influenced her desire to learn more about teaming and formal/informal group communication which led her to the NCSU Industrial Extension Service’s Team Specialist Certification Program.   The previous Director of the Computer Science SDC had a vision that students, in addition to their technical skills, needed to be proficient as team members and communicators within their discipline.  Ms. Heil was hired in 1996 in an attempt to fulfill that vision.  The team teaching approach – a technical advisor along with a communication specialist – proved to be an effective way to help computer science students develop skills essential to their professional lives beyond academics.   We expect students to be technically competent, and also to recognize and value the importance of working together and conveying clear, coherent messages.  In 1996, Ms. Heil worked with ~10 students in an elective course.  Since that time, the program has grown substantially and the project course offered within the SDC is now required of all CSC Seniors.  In a recent semester, Ms. Heil coordinated the SDC faculty and staff efforts over three sections totaling 98 students placed on 28 teams studying unique problems.  Since being at NCSU, Ms. Heil has coordinated ~500 teams of senior design students and has facilitated the mentorship of these teams with ~175 industrial sponsors.  She was a co-mentor of three winning student teams of the IEEE Computer Society International Design Competition (2003: 3rd Place, 2005: 1st Place, 2006: 1st Place; Note: this was the first time in the history of the CSIDC that students from any university in the world placed first in the competition in two consecutive years).  In 2010, Ms. Heil was a recipient of an NC State University Outstanding Teacher Award.  

Over the years, Ms. Heil has authored or co-authored 9 peer-reviewed publications, and she has been invited to speak about the SDC and to conduct workshops related to her work at both national and international conferences. 

Host: Dennis Bahler, CSC

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