Project Courses-Engineering and Public Policy - Carnegie Mellon University

Project Courses

The capstone experience for EPP undergraduates consists of problem-solving project courses to synthesize technology-policy issues with social science analysis. In the EPP Projects Course, students experience working on unstructured, real-world problems that, for proper treatment, require teamwork and contributions from diverse disciplines.

A common lament from recruiters of undergraduates is a lack of general team-oriented, multi-faceted, problem-solving skills, along with poor written and oral communication skills to a broad audience. The EPP Projects courses provides all of those skills to students, and is the course most often identified by our alumni as the essential course of their undergraduate careers. Offered each semester, the courses involve faculty and students from EPP, the Department of Social and Decision Sciences, and the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon. EPP Doctoral students serve as project managers. Problem areas are abstracted from local, state and national situations and involve the interaction of technology and public policy.

Course Description

In each project course, students work in multidisciplinary teams (engineers, computer science students, humanities and social science students, public policy and management graduate students) on a “cutting edge” project topic with very little in the way of “pre-digested” analysis or solutions.  Project faculty attempt to choose topics with both technical and social dimensions, requiring multi-dimensional analysis.  Students are given a general goal, and are expected to discover existing knowledge on the topic, to research existing policies relevant to the topic, and analyze alternatives that make society better off.  Using this background research, and their technical and social analysis education as appropriate, the students then create new knowledge on the subject.  This knowledge is communicated to an external advisory panel, selected from experts and constituencies of importance to the issue.  Students give interim reports during the semester, after which the advisory panel may make suggestions on direction and scope of the work. A final oral report is presented to the panel along with a written report at the end of the semester. (12 units)

Course Objectives

By the end of the course, students should gain skills in the following areas:

  1. Decomposing, structuring, and formulating solutions to unstructured problems.
  2. Assessing what can be done and delivering a product on time.
  3. Interdisciplinary problem solving: Data collection, analysis, and synthesis, formulation and evaluation of policy recommendations.
  4. Developing professional oral and written communication skills through participation in oral presentations, and preparation of the final written project document.
  5. Developing the ability to function on multidisciplinary teams.

These course objectives are independent of the content and topic, or what specific activities and responsibilities a particular student takes on.

Spring 2017 Project Courses

The Future of Alerts and Warnings
Faculty: Doug Sicker, Marvin Sirbu
Project Manager: Rachel Dryden

Presentation Dates: March 2, May 4
Presentation Time: 3:00pm
Presentation Places: Baker Hall 129

This project will explore how to effectively deploy and use future emergency alert and warning systems. Alert and warning systems provide the necessary information for the purpose of preserving the health and safety of the general public. The delivery of alerts and warnings might make use of a broad set of technologies including sirens, TV, texts, social media and more. Technology is changing in ways which have implications for warning delivery; e.g. how should locally targeted messages be layered on top of nationally delivered DBS or streaming video? The messaging within alerts and warnings should be designed to provide the necessary information to warn the public and effect the necessary actions that will lead to their safety. Such a system should: reach people at risk for the hazard; recommend protective actions that people understand and can reasonably take with the guidance provided; recommend protective actions that apply to all alert recipients (e.g., recommendations to shelter in place for a tornado may not be actionable for mobile home residents who don’t have community shelters; advance recommendations to evacuate or shelter elsewhere would be more helpful); be respected and trusted by the public, emergency managers, other public officials, and the media; and include alerting channels for all populations at-risk (e.g., recognizes needs around language, abilities, technology access). Questions might include: how should the messages be delivered? how long should the message be? should the message include maps? how geotargeted should the message be? what source is most trusted (federal government, local government, local public safety, your social network …)? how important is security and privacy, and how might they be implemented? how can the system protect against the injection of fake or false messages? should the communications be two-way? Should the user’s end device tailor the message to the user? what provisions should be made for non-English speakers or those who are deaf or blind?

Air Quality Benefits from Vehicle Emissions Testing
Faculty: Paul Fischbeck, Deanna Matthews
Project Manager: Sinnott Murphy
Presentation Dates: March 2, May 2
Presentation Time: 3:00pm
Presentation Location: Porter Hall 223D

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted that it installed software on 11 million vehicles that would sense when the vehicle was getting an emissions test and set engine parameters to run cleaner. This allowed vehicles to pass emissions tests. During actual driving the software set different parameters, and those vehicles emitted nitrogen oxide (NOx) exhaust well above legal limits. Now, FiatChrysler is being accused of a similar issue with its engine management software. Traditional vehicle emissions testing and inspections did not detect these issues due to the current procedures for emissions testing. Vehicle emissions testing and inspection protocols changed in the late 1990s with the advent of on-board diagnostics (OBD). The OBD equipment monitors the status of various vehicle components, including those related to vehicle emissions. If the various sensors and equipment statuses are all working as expected, then a vehicle’s “check engine light” is off – and the vehicle passes inspection. The actual tailpipe emissions are never tested for newer model vehicles. The OBD equipment has software designed by the original equipment manufacture (OEM) to perform regular checks of the vehicle mechanics and electronics, and these are intended to demonstrate that the vehicle is functioning properly. These recent issues with the underlying functions of the OBD and regulations concerning emissions make us question the usefulness of OBD checks for emissions testing and the potential impact this can have on urban air quality. This project aims to investigate vehicle emissions and testing protocols and provide the states with recommendations for future emissions testing and air quality monitoring.

Download the Project Course archive.

Fall 2016: Pittsburgh Bicycling: An analysis of city impacts, stakeholders, project prioritization and infrastructure options

Fall 2016: Smart Streetlights for the City of Pittsburgh

Spring 2016: Failure of the Kariba Dam: A study of Risk, Mitigation, and Emergency Response.”

Fall 2015: Police Body-Worn Cameras: A Pittsburgh-Centered Analysis

Fall 2015: Personal Environmental Monitoring

Spring 2015: California’s Water Problem: A Survey of New Technical and Social Solutions

Spring 2015: Big Data in the 'Burgh: Evaluating the Impacts of an Open Data Portal in Pittsburgh

Fall 2014: Optimal Scheduling for Medical Clinics

Fall 2014: Providing Information to Non-English Speakers During Disaster

Spring 2014: Adaptation in Pittsburgh

Spring 2014: A plastic bag tax for Pennsylvania?

Fall 2013: Local News in Pittsburgh in the Internet Age

Fall 2013: How Clean Is Clean Enough? Public Response to Radioactive Contamination

Spring 2013: What are the Prospects for Natural Gas Vehicles in the Pittsburgh Region?

Spring 2013: Advancing Wind Energy

Fall 2012: The Locks and Dams Crisis

Fall 2012: Bridging the Digital Divide

Spring 2012: Emergency Messaging with Social Media

Spring 2012: Vehicle Use, Transportation and Energy Policy

Fall 2011: The Effects of Regional Energy Production on Water Quality in Southwestern Pennsylvania: Past, Present and Future

Fall 2011: Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS)

Spring 2011: Green Printing: Reducing Waste and Innovative Alternatives to Printing

Spring 2011: Trends in the US Vehicle Fleet across Economic, Safety, and Environmental Measures

Fall 2010: Learning from U.S. Energy Supply Catastrophies

Fall 2010: Winners and Losers: A Stakeholder Analysis of the Marcellus Shale