Not long ago, in our galaxy, there was a small satellite called USNA-1 orbiting the earth. Its prototype was designed, built and tested by the USNA senior class of 2000 and a fully operational satellite was completed by the Class of 2001 the next year. It is impressive — a solar-powered repeater meant to spend two years in orbit — that could still communicate with users via ham radio as late as 2006. The prototype was even displayed in the venerable Smithsonian. This technology represents the humble beginnings of the Capstone Project, now in its twenty-third year. What began as a senior project for the Academy that was usually just completed on paper has evolved into a project where midshipmen design, test, prototype and many times have their ideas completely produced and operating in the real world. It’s incredible.
How Do the Capstone Projects Work?
Generally, the midshipmen break into small groups within their designated major (although depending on their major, they may work on their own) and start working on their projects at the beginning of their senior year; they take capstones as a class both in the fall and spring semesters. From the beginning of the project, they are matched with a sponsor, a company, organization or government entity that can fund the project. Most of the projects are funded by outside contractors, many of them being larger corporations. These range from companies like Northrop Grumman to Boeing to NOAA to Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) and many more. The team works fastidiously throughout the USNA academic calendar year, conducting research and experiments and compiling reports of their findings. Attention to detail is of the utmost importance because the work should be able to be duplicated and sponsors should be able to see how their money is being utilized and maximized. This all leads up to Capstone Day.
Welcome to Capstone Day!
Capstone Day came many years after the Capstone Project, and it celebrates its eleventh anniversary this year. This day of presentations and idea-sharing has become the crowning event for the academic careers of the senior class, and while the entire Capstone Project started with just eight midshipmen in the USNA aerospace engineering program’s astronautics track, there are now projects across all majors and disciplines. In fact, a mind-blowing 280+ projects and 150+ formal presentations are slated for this year’s Capstone Day, which will take place on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at Alumni Hall in Annapolis at the Naval Academy.
Capstone Day kicks off with a breakfast for all in attendance. Then the presentations run for about three and a half hours. Each presentation lasts approximately 20 minutes, and there is a Q&A session that can go longer. This is followed by a lunch at the Volgenau Conference Center in Hopper Hall and a two-hour poster session in Alumni Hall whereby the faculty and sponsors can see the full range of the capstone projects. For the most updated information, you can check out the event brochure.
USNA publishes a listing of the formal capstone presentations so the faculty and sponsors can visit the ones most relevant to them and ask questions. Various sponsors, evaluators and professors with expertise in the different subjects will explore these projects. Their unique perspectives are invaluable to the Firstie teams, who might defend the legitimacy of the scholarly principles to a professor and answer questions about the practicality of the funding compared to its true worth for a corporate representative. Grading is standard across projects. Each is evaluated based on the team’s professionalism, knowledge, tact and relatability. The team also collaborates on a report that usually numbers more than ten pages; this is the most heavily graded piece.
2023 Capstone Projects
You can find the updated schedule for this year’s presentations on the site. They are divided into the School of Engineering and Weapons, the School of Math and Science and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. There is also a select group of students in the Trident Scholars program, which gives “exceptionally capable midshipmen [the chance to] engage in independent study and research during their senior year.” These students receive mentorship from Naval Academy faculty and other area specialists.
Here’s how the projects are categorized:
Engineering and Weapons:
- Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical (EAS/EASA)
- Electric and Computer Engineering (ECE)
- Formula SAE Multidisciplinary (SAE)
- Mechanical/Nuclear Engineering (EME/ENR)
- Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering (NAOE)
- Weapons, Robotics and Control Engineering (WRCE)
Math and Science:
- Computer Science
- Cyber Science
Humanities and Social Sciences:
- Languages and Cultures
- Political Science
Capping off Four Years
We are incredibly proud of all of the midshipmen. The academic, physical and mental rigors they encounter at USNA are already far above that of a typical college. When they add an intensive year-long research project to their workload, it’s even more impressive. These projects have delivered real prototypes to organizations that have gone on to produce them. They’ve inspired the faculty and sponsors alike with their fresh approaches and diligent research and design. Most importantly, they’ve challenged the midshipmen to go above and beyond their academic commitments to develop an idea from start to finish and make a contribution to their field. We wish all of the Firsties (seniors) good luck as they prepare for this enormous milestone.
Want to see where Capstone Day and many other exciting midshipmen milestones occur? Come take a tour of the Yard. Springtime is the perfect time to enjoy its unique ambiance and the newly flowering walkways. When you take a tour, dine in our unique restaurants or shop in our stores, you’ll be supporting the midshipmen who walk these paths, since all proceeds go to the Brigade. We welcome you to the Yard and hope you’ll join us soon to cap off a great year!