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Engineering Technology Students Get Hands-On Experience Selling WIU Pride

April 16, 2019


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MACOMB, IL -- More than three years ago, Western Illinois University Engineering Technology Professor Kevin Hall introduced a new concept to graduate students in his "Planning Techniques for Leaders" (ETL 548) course … creating their own for-profit business, all while honing their engineering tech skills.

It all began in 2015 when Hall worked with the School of Agriculture on a grant for a plasma cutter and new mig welders. The grant was awarded, and Hall "inherited" the equipment and brought into his ET 241 course, which resulted in students welding WIU signs. Hall decided to consider incorporating those signs into his graduate course, ETL 548, the in Spring 2016 … and the Metals Fabrication Lab was born. He began the semester by giving the class two options: taking the typical graduate course format of lecture and research or creating a mock business. They chose option two … and because of its success, ETL 548 hasn't been that "typical" course since 2015, rather it has become a small business that's turning a profit for the department.

The class is divided into four functional teams: human resources, design, production and marketing. The teams run like an actual organization and are responsible for operations that would be in those business departments in a real company. Human resources creates safety manuals and signs, a cross skills matrix, instruction manuals, etc. Marketing meets with different areas of the University to get approval for use of the WIU logo and to have someone create a label for the bottom of the statues, as well as to get approval to sell them. Marketing also performs customer analysis, creates surveys and holds focus groups. They bring their results to the design team, who, in turn, is tasked with using software to create prototypes and designs for the product. Production is in charge of efficiently and effectively creating the product that not only sells, but also will make a profit.

"The Engineering Technology Leadership program has really evolved. Teamwork and planning are emphasized," Hall added. "This experience involves working with a variety of customers, managing product concept-to-completion, measuring performance and resolving process problems to further develop the system. Each class sets the bar higher for the next."

To make sure each student gets a chance to learn the different team operations, as well as gets a chance to lead each team, Hall sets up a rotational system—every two weeks, at least two students rotate out of one group and into another. This system creates its own set of challenges.

"Your team might be making good progress, and then all of a sudden you rotate people and have two new people to catch up. That's the way the industry works though, so they are getting continuous training and learning about talent management," said Hall.

What started three years ago as a simple "block WIU" desk décor item has morphed into intricate designs, from the bell tower to WIU Leatherneck football items to a plethora of products featuring an incredibly detailed Rocky head logo. Each semester, the class starts with a new cohort, and the designs continue to evolve, Hall said. Custom orders are also available.

The University Union sells some of the product lines, and the students also sell their work at their "company headquarters," which is located in Knoblauch Hall 127. Prices vary depending on size and product line. The profits go directly back to the Engineering Technology department.

Not only are the students making a profit, but they are also getting great experience to add to their résumés and having a good time learning.

"I plan to implement the things I've learned in this class to any supervisory role I may have in the industry," said Marquis Sims-McCoy of Macomb. "This class allows you to grow as a leader, while learning to contribute to a common goal with your peers."

Stoney Haines of Mt. Sterling added that the experience is allowing him and his "business partners" to solve issues from design to flow to everything in-between.

"By learning how to create an efficient system, we've learned how to be prepared for anything in the industry," he added.

Shyan Edwards from Jamaica noted that this unconventional class gives her and her classmates a high level of independence and autonomy.

"Our bi-weekly rotations compel us to grow, develop and adapt, which are key characteristics for leaders in the industry," she said. "As an international student, internship opportunities for me are rare. However, this class has given me the best of both worlds, as I'm able to implement and execute patterns of industry and manufacturing from a classroom setting."

For more information about purchasing a WIU sign, visit the University Union bookstore or contact the group at engineeringtechnologyleader@gmail.com to make an appointment to visit their Knoblauch Hall "supermarket."

For more information about the WIU Department of Engineering Technology, visit wiu.edu/engrtech.

Posted By: Alisha Looney (AA-Looney@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations