CME Senior Capstone Projects Aid Willie Price

Students design and build solutions to real-word problems at preschool

OXFORD, Miss. – The 3- and 4-year-old children at the University of Mississippi’s Willie Price Lab School find themselves living out the phrase, “little people, big world.” 

Recently, students in the university’s Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence completed two senior capstone projects to design and build products that helped students at the preschool. One called “Step Buddy” gave Willie Price students a solution to a common problem: the children aren’t able to reach the sinks and water fountains in Kinard Hall, which are designed for adults. Another product, Big Cajon, is a smaller-than-normal hand percussion instrument for students to play along with their teachers. 

Edward Lieser, a Chicago native who earned a bachelor’s degree in finance earlier this year, was the CEO of Step Buddy. He said the idea began when a faculty member at Willie Price came to the CME and talked about the issue of sinks being too high for children to reach. 

“Our team felt as if we could effectively remedy the situation with a solid design that met all of the desired customer specifications,” Lieser said. “Very quickly, the project became more than just a ‘capstone project’ as our team was consistently engaged, trying to make the Ole Miss community, specifically Willie Price, a better place.”

The goal of the capstone projects is to engage the senior CME class in a yearlong entrepreneurial, “real-world” experience that involves designing a new product and building a “company” around it. 

In the beginning, students had to utilize a comprehensive engineering design process that was taught in previous CME courses to bring the product to life. From there, each team was to create an organizational structure, develop a concurrent working relationship with a local customer, determine accurate costs and profit projections and ultimately manufacture the product at the center. 

They also had to meet all production timelines. 

Ole Miss seniors Peter Dowling, Chris Sevigney, Kaitlyn Meyers, Kyle Khan and Arthur Smith, all from business, accountancy and engineering, were members of the Step Buddy team. It provided a great work experience, Lieser said. 

“Throughout the project, I think we all got a taste of the real world in not just manufacturing, but business and real life as a whole,” Lieser said. “Critical lessons in effective communication, project management, meeting deadlines and quotas, cross-functional collaboration and more were all taught through experience.”

Evan Turner and Paige Lohman created Big Cajon. Originally, the design called for a full-sized drum, but after meeting with Willie Price staff, they heard concerns about it being too tall for the students. Turner and Lohman made their design about 30 percent shorter, without changing its tone. 

“Our team spent this semester and last semester applying the concepts we learned through the CME curriculum in order to finalize a prototype, design a process layout and complete two one-hour production runs,” said Lohman, of Moline, Illinois, who graduated in May with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Jack McClurg, CME associate professor of practice, praised both groups of students for their work. 

Step Buddy was vitally important, he said. 

“Eddie Lieser and his group did a fine job analyzing the current situation and needs by visiting the school, recognizing the need and working with the students and administrators to make functional, safe products for the children to use,” McClurg said. 

The Big Cajon team was flexible in their production line, which allowed them to easily change their product to best fit the customer, he said. 

“After visiting with the school, there were concerns about the cajon being too tall for the children to use safely,” McClurg said. “This resulted in a redesign of the cajon to be about 30 percent shorter, while not affecting the tonal quality of the drum box too much.

“This team ended up building 10-to-12 small cajons for the children and delivering two full-scale units for teachers.”