There is no doubt that the development of power electronics-based devices, such as STATCOMs, provides an invaluable learning experience for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. However, time constraints that typically surround university projects mean that students are usually forced to choose between a simulation-based study or a hardware-based study. This paper investigates the use of low cost rapid development tools to facilitate very high level simulation-based and practical studies. The primary focus of this paper is on final year, electrical engineering capstone projects. A case study of such a project is presented, where a STATCOM that performs both power factor correction and active harmonic cancellation was modelled, simulated and constructed.