For some professors working to teach industrial and systems engineering students the fundamental skills they’ll need for successful careers, something as simple as classroom furniture can have a huge impact on the success of their class.
Thanks to one donation by Jane Mandula, who earned her bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering in 1987, new classrooms in the Mechanical Engineering Building are providing instructors a flexibility they never had before: Students now can collaborate in small groups.
Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Emeritus Harry Steudel teaches Engineering Management of Continuous Process Improvement, ISyE 515, a capstone senior design class that focuses on process improvement. Acting in the capacity of full-fledged industrial engineers, students work to implement process improvements with outside organizations such as healthcare, manufacturing and service organizations, pitching projects of their own design with the help of tools they learn from Steudel. “They get to pick what area and they also have to set up their own projects,” he says. “They have to be able to go out and convince somebody they have skills and values that are worth taking the time to work with them.”
And, Steudel says, group work is a unique and important feature of the course, integral to the learning process. The students work in groups of four on their final projects. Also, as part of their classroom instruction time, they must work through different process improvement tools in small workshops of seven or eight.
In the real world, he says, process improvement is typically done in teams. “Not only do I teach the students problem-solving methods, I also teach them about teams and how to work in teams and what makes an effective team,” says Steudel.
He says such skills are essential to young industrial and systems engineers hoping to succeed in their careers. “Feedback from alumni and people who hire our students is that our people are very technically well trained,” he says.
But, he says, the same feedback suggests students must work more on teamwork and communication. “Good communication skills, knowing how to work in teams, and project management skills are the three most common things that employers say are important,” he says.
Before the Mechanical Engineering Building’s 2007 renovation, Steudel had to adapt, awkwardly, to rooms with nailed-down chairs and limited board space. Many of his student groups had to work, instead, in the tables in the lobby of the building. And to ensure the space would be available, the class met only at 8 a.m. “It was rough,” Steudel says.
Furthermore, the class took up a valuable study space that other students might have needed to use. “Other students were trying to study in the lobby,” he says. “If they came in before the class was done at 9:30, we were bothering them. Having class in the lobby was kind of the best of the bad options we had.”
Now, thanks to the creation of several flexible teaching labs in the renovation, Steudel easily can lead his students into team collaboration in the new teaching dynamics lab, which—along with advanced projection capabilities, sports round tables that fit six students each, plus moveable white boards that students can use to draw diagrams and brainstorm solutions to problems.
Jane Mandula says she hopes the gift—$500,000 for the team dynamics lab and another teaching laboratory—will raise the department’s national reputation with industry and encourage more nontraditional, nonmanfucaturing companies to tap into the college’s talent pool.
“I wanted to support and enhance UW’s reputation for having a great engineering program,” says Mandula. “I learned a tremendous amount from my IE professors, many of whom are still there, and I’d like the IE students of today to have better lab facilities than I had.”
Thanks to the added space, Steudel‘s process improvement class can be taught at any time of day now. And that‘s good thing, given that the class is so popular it was full by 11 a.m. of the first day of fall 2011 course registration, and Steudel has added a second section for the first time in the course’s 15-plus years. “This is the only classroom in this building that has the round tables,” Steudel says. “It’s a great addition to our building and our abilities to help educate students.”