Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: I’m an engineering student in a university.  Can I initiate a Capstone Project?  How do I do it??

A:  The Capstone Marketplace is not ready yet to accept Expressions of Interest directly from students for this academic year (2018-2019).  We plan on including a process to do this in subsequent Capstone years.  But students may join the site now, and communicate their interests directly with Capstone at .   The marketplace can assist  as a “message board” in alerting faculty of your interests, and help you get involved in a Capstone team.  For now, commitment from a Faculty Advisor  and the university, to organize and manage a senior design team is necessary before we can start down the “proposal” and contracting path for an award.

Q:  I’m with a Department of Defense organization.  How do I initiate a Capstone Project with the SERC?

A:   Go to the Resources Section and see the “Needs and Problem Submission” document.  Use this as a guide and email your document to “”  or one of the Capstone Marketplace managers listed on the Homepage.  We will respond to you and will initiate the process of getting a Research Topic on the site and attracting and helping you to downselect interested university research teams.  We are establishing an annual cycle for this, the best times for problem submissions will be from mid Spring thru mid Summer each year.

Q: I’m a government guy with an interesting operational problem.  I’d like to turn students loose finding potential solutions.  Do I have to find my own funding for this effort?  Does it matter if I’m not in DOD?

A: It depends.   We have government organizations, such as USSOCOM in DOD, who have already set aside funds for Capstones on their topics.  If your problem aligns with an existing sponsor’s interests, then we can use the funding we have, with sponsor permission.  Otherwise, you will have to identify another source of funding support for your particular project.  For the SERC and the Capstone Marketplace contract, our DOD Contracting Office will have to approve transfer of funds from other U.S. government activities.  We are working on processes to do this efficiently.

Q: When will faculty and students be notified about participation on a project?
A: After receipt of a university’s proposal, SERC reviews the proposal with its government sponsors for selection.  Universities and teams are notified of awards as soon as possible.  It’s our objective to have all fall Research Topics assigned by mid September.  We expect a two semester effort to be the norm, but will consider single semester research projects on a case by case basis.

Q: Can a Capstone Marketplace award be granted without identifying specific students?
A: Yes, we would prefer to see proposals from universities as soon as they can be submitted.  In the proposal, please include a description of expected student participation, with particular attention to how students will approach “cross-domain” or multi-department solutions if it suits the research task. The SERC Capstone Marketplace Objectives document in the Resources section lists the “attributes” we feel will add value to a student design project.

Q: Who evaluates the proposed teams?
A: For a particular proposal award, SERC facilitates the selection discussion with government sponsors, and handles the contract paperwork.  The proposals are evaluated on the attractiveness of the “approach”, the university’s support to their student team, and the government sponsor’s priorities for his list of topics.  Its important that proposers read the SERC Capstone Marketplace Objectives and describe in their proposal how they intend to guide student teams to align with SERC’s objectives.  Once the Capstone project is awarded, Capstone Marketplace personnel are available to university faculty and students for guidance on project execution.  Government Subject Matter Experts (SME) will join the team as “customers”, and will participate in evaluating student team efforts.

Q: Do any of these projects have citizenship restrictions for either students or faculty?
A: No.  It’s a decision which is up to the government Research Topic originator.    Unless otherwise noted in the Research Task description, there are no citizenship restrictions for students or faculty.  Only U.S. academic institutions may participate in these Capstone Research Topics.

Q: Are any of the projects subject to International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) or other government restrictions?
A: Unless otherwise noted in the Research Topic, there are no ITAR or other restrictions.

Q: What are the Intellectual Property (IP) rules for these projects?
A: A university’s policy on IP should be reflected in the proposal.   There is further guidance in the Resource section regarding government rights to IP.   The SERC Contract Office, and the university business office will agree on how IP is going to be handled as a part of a contract award.   Additionally the Principal Investigator and the student team members are to document and agree to the IP processes at the start of their project.    The IP arrangements should become an annex in a team’s Capstone “Project Plan”, and presented at the first project review (Kickoff meeting) in the Fall.

Q: Would successful execution of any of the currently listed projects result in classification of the work product created by a student team?
A: It’s not anticipated that any of the student work will be classified.  However, project team results may induce the government sponsor to pursue additional, follow-on research and development effort which could become restricted.

Q: What level of involvement is expected from sponsoring entities committed to support the student teams?  And how will student teams connect with them?  
A: Government sponsors (operational units, staffs, and Subject Matter Experts) are to provide information and feedback at approximately 4 major Capstone reviews for a two-semester student Capstone project: beginning of Fall term, end of Fall term, mid-semester Spring term, end of Spring term.  The number, scope, scheduling, and frequency of reviews are up to the proposer and the government “customer”.  Project reviews presented by the students should follow business formats, where cost, schedule, and technical performance are assessed against a Project Plan and its Statement of Work.    Contact and communication between the student team and the government sponsor is the responsibility of the university.  It’s expected that IT tools such as Dropbox, Skype, and Go To Meeting will facilitate this contact.    Government sponsors will be requested to provide input to the team’s overall performance on the design project. Capstone Marketplace staff may join team reviews to assess effectiveness of the student-government interaction.

Q: What is the expected project budget?
A: SERC will award contracts to universities for up to $5,000 for each Capstone student team.  With exceptional justification, awards of up to $10,000 may be made.  Funds may be used for material, components, non-capital equipment, student travel, other student expenses as detailed in the Proposal Preparation Instructions and contract documents. Professional research salaries will not be authorized as a Capstone expenditure.

Q: How are funds disbursed?
A: The SERC has a government contract at Stevens Institute which allows the Capstone Marketplace to receive funds from Department of Defense sponsors. Stevens’ Business Office writes a Firm Fixed Price contract for each university team, based on budgets which are approved from the university’s proposal. Payments are made on a milestone schedule, against deliverables described in the contract.  A series of student team design reviews will usually be the main contract deliverables.  Payments from SERC to the universities will be made as these milestones are satisfied.

Q: Are funds taxed?  And if so, by whom? 
A: SERC will not tax Capstone funds which are awarded to universities.  However, each institution likely has its own mechanism for handling outside funds and executing contracts.  Some overhead and tax is likely.  Principal Investigators need to understand that the amount of funding they are able to use will usually be somewhat less than the total that SERC provides to the school.

Q:  How can universities spend their Capstone award funds?

A;  The “Proposal Preparation Instructions” provide detail on the use of funds and the restrictions that SERC has established for Capstone expenditures.  SERC has selected a Firm Fixed Price contract type for awards, to reduce bureaucratic overhead and expedite research activities.  Purchasing of supplies, materials, consumables, and other items for, or by,a student team can be cumbersome.  Streamlined purchasing processes, which can be properly accounted, are recommended.

Q: Are project scope and objectives negotiable?
A: Yes. The project descriptions shown are desired outcomes but may not completely reflect the abilities of undergraduate student teams or the specific interests of the government sponsor. Students will negotiate the scope and objectives with the government sponsor and will document these in a Project Plan, including a Statement of Work.   The Project Plan will include details on team objectives, team organization and responsibilities, execution, services, facilities and equipment, deliverables, schedules, costs, and status and reporting for the project.  Templates for Project Plans are in work and will be posted soon.

Q: SERC and the Capstone Marketplace seem to put a lot of emphasis on the “business” process for Capstone student design teams.  In that these are typically engineering projects, what’s the reason for this?

A; The SERC is trying to stimulate critical thinking and modest applications of “system engineering” techniques to undergraduate students.  SERC’s logic is presented in the SERC Capstone Marketplace Objectives document, in the Resources section of the site.  Research Topics are selected to give students real problems with real customers, who expect results, prototypes, demonstrations, or other end items when the work is done.  Students are encouraged to organize their teams and their development activities much as a small business team would do.  The teams and their problems are not 100% “engineering”.  The inclusion of students with business or other appropriate majors on Capstone Project teams may be of value, to help track the team’s contract, requirements, schedules, expenditures, project risk, etc.

Q: Do the projects have to follow a Fall-Spring schedule?
A: Yes, This first set of Research Topics will be awarded on a Fall-Spring semester schedule (or Fall-WInter-Spring quarter schedule for schools on the quarter system).  A limited number of single semester projects may be approved depending on funding and level of response from academia.

Q: What are the expected deliverables for projects?
A: A typical  Capstone FFP contract should include approximately 4 milestones as deliverables.  For example, a Project Kickoff, at least two Interim Design Reviews, and a Final Review.   Each project team must  negotiate its deliverables ( prototypes, tests, demonstrations, analyses, tech data, usually available at the final review),  with their government sponsor.  Deliverables must be specified as part of the student team’s Statement Of Work.