Bringing Industry Examples to The Classroom

Bringing industry examples to the classroom

ISE Magazine April 2020 Volume: 52 Number: 4

By Dave Hampton and Karla Carichner

Preparing students with real-world skills is a core focus of our universities. Industry advisers can partner with faculties to balance fundamental learning with evolving industry needs and expose students to multiple industries.

The California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo industrial and manufacturing engineering faculty/industry advisory board partnership accepted this challenge by leveraging Cal Poly’s “learn by doing” tradition to deliver a course entirely taught by its IAB members.

This course bridges academia and industry by preparing students in multiple ways: providing a broad view of IEs’ role in the value chain, enabling experience with real products throughout the value chain and sharing highlights of emerging industry trends and active mentorship. Industry partners have also benefited by becoming energized with their ability to make an impact in the education of engineering students.

The relationship between industry boards and engineering departments continues to evolve and typically provides guidance on curriculum relevance, supports fundraising efforts and provides a voice of industry. The Cal PolySan Luis Obispo IME department has further evolved the partnership by developing and adopting a model where each stakeholder is a customer of the others.

Students want jobs and engagement; faculty want industry perspective; and industry wants plug-and-play hires of the highest quality. To help bring this new operating model to life, the faculty and IAB at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo adopted key performance metrics that track the performance of the department. Three performance areas were identified: input, in-process and output, and one or two metrics that supported the department mission were selected for each. These metrics have faculty and IAB owners and are discussed at meetings. Typical discussions focus on scorecard review and development of action plans to address opportunities.

Some encouraging results from the focus include female student representation increasing by 50% and three times more students transferring into industrial engineering from other majors rather than transferring out.

Course design on  a value chain

One of the first opportunities identified was to leverage the Cal Poly IAB to bring more actual industry focus to the curriculum. With its broad experience base, it could be a lever to advance student engagement and supplement the great work already provided by the faculty. The team brainstormed a concept where the board develops and delivers content for a senior level course based on a typical value chain. This course has been taught annually since 2010 and has brought greater industry exposure to over 300 students. It was taught as a “concept” class for a number of years but has since been added as a permanent course.

The value chain course (IME 460) is taught each spring quarter and meets once a week for three hours. The course is structured along a traditional value chain (R&D, sales, manufacturing, supply chain, etc.) with IAB members delivering weekly content and activities, including a real industry challenge. Based on current trends, extra emphasis is placed on lean, financial analysis and data analytics. The specific learning objectives of the course are for the students to comprehend and explain key steps of the value chain, demonstrate how multiple processes support different steps of the value chain and to compare and contrast how different companies from different industries execute their value chains.

The course supports 30-plus students who are assigned to nine groups for the duration of the quarter. Each student group is aligned with one of the weekly topics and is matched up with the corresponding IAB representative(s). A department faculty member attends all sessions to ensure learning objectives are achieved and that grading is consistent and appropriate.

The course is taught in four modules that are consistent from week to week:

  1. Each week, a student group delivers a 30-minute presentation to the entire class on that week’s topic. The presentation focuses on providing a broad overview of the topic, not the IAB companies. Prior to the presentation, the student groups connect with their IAB partner for guidance and direction on the topic. The students may have two or three contacts with the IAB partner to discuss research methods, presentation thoughts, rehearsals, etc. The student group receives peer feedback from the balance of the class and a formal grade from the IAB partner (30% of the course grade).
  2. The IAB partner then leads a 60-minute discussion on how his or her company executes that week’s step of the value chain. Quality (lean, Six Sigma), data analytics and financial elements are integrated into the discussion. Presentation methods include PowerPoints, videos and class activities.
  3. The last 90 minutes are spent with student groups working on “challenge problems” provided by the IAB partner. The focus of the challenge problem is to provide real problems that companies face and are related to that day’s topic. The goal is to force students “beyond the textbooks” to solve issues that often have no perfect answer. Based on time, groups will explain their findings to the class. Each group also submits two one-page papers (30% of course grade). One paper details their challenge problem response and the other shares what they thought was the most important and the most unclear portions of that day’s topic.
  4. In week one, each student group selects an actual product that will be referenced throughout the quarter as part of a “living term paper.” Each week, student groups add a chapter to their term paper that explains how their product will execute that week’s step of the value chain. IAB partners periodically review the term paper with their student group and provide guidance and feedback on how well they are integrating their learnings. At the end of the quarter, the IAB partner and faculty representative provide a grade (30% of course grade).

The IAB partner is responsible for evaluating the student group presentation and all the challenge questions for their assigned week, as well as their specific student group’s living term paper. The faculty representative ensures consistency on the grading and also assigns the final 10% based on attendance and participation.

Course performance and feedback

At the end of the quarter, students complete a paper providing constructive feedback on the course. The IAB reviews the student feedback, and also receives input from the faculty. Agenda time is allocated at IAB meetings to discuss and develop action plans.

Student feedback from all 10 years has been very positive, specifically the benefits from the challenge problem, which has led to more time dedicated to that activity. They also feel better engaged when multiple mediums and styles are used vs. when just PowerPoint presentations are delivered. This has been a big learning opportunity for the industry advisers with continued progress toward improving delivery via more class activities and more frequent checks for understanding. You can read some feedback samples in the accompanying article above.

Early faculty feedback focused on the need for more rigor in the grading process and that specific learning objectives should be better defined. With that feedback, the IAB developed learning objectives that are now part of the syllabus. Finally, the IAB and faculty work together on defining specific focus areas – leading to lean and data analytics now having dedicated agenda slots.

Based on feedback from the spring 2019 session, the IAB and department are evaluating adding another offering of the class in the fall quarter and expanding the content to include “soft” value chains (i.e., software). The IAB is also working to continue broadening the industry coverage and better balance the gender representation of the presenters

 Other IAB/department collaborations

 While the value chain course has been a significant example of the IAB/department partnership, there have been many other rewarding collaborations:

  • Identified need, designed courses and secured faculty to integrate data analytics into the IME curriculum.
  • All Cal Poly students must complete a senior project prior to graduation. The IAB has supported the process by having conference calls with students on project scope and planning and by reviewing and evaluating midcycle and final project reports.• IAB members are active mentors of IE department students and have matched up with faculty to advise student clubs.
  • IAB members participate in Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology evaluations, sharing how industry and academia partner together for student success.
  • IAB members have funded an endowed scholarship that is awarded to an IME student each year, in perpetuity.

Industry advisory boards can be an important link in every engineering department. This partnership works very well when there is an integrated strategy between faculty, students and IAB with the common objective of maximizing the learning opportunity and improving engagement.

The Cal Poly IME department has been able to provide more industry awareness to the department by providing a course delivered by the IAB. While many classes leverage industry for occasional guest speakers, having a complete course led by industry experts has enabled a much deeper exposure to industry. Using value chain as the course topic provided a structure to drive the discussions and made it possible for students to hear points of view across multiple industries and multiple functions of an organization. It also benefits the IAB partners by providing more exposure to the students and to gain experience by teaching.

Finally, the faculty benefits as they can suggest that specific areas get additional focus and that students get exposure to learning opportunities that are “beyond the textbooks.”

The overall value of the course is best summed up by Dan Waldorf, Ph.D, the IME department head, who said: “The Value Chain Analysis Course (IME 460) that is offered by our industry advisers has been an extremely valuable and popular option for our students. The realworld perspective they see and the personal connections they get have helped them become more successful over the years in finding the right jobs for their careers. Word is out that students need to seek out and get in on the course as soon as they can.”

Source: IISE Magazine April 2020