Supporting the American Manufacturing Renewal: Inside Oakland University’s ISE Department |

Supporting the American Manufacturing Renewal: Inside Oakland University’s ISE Department

Supporting the American Manufacturing Renewal: Inside Oakland University’s ISE Department

By Bill Lydon, Editor,

As the resurgent American manufacturing industry continues to grow, the uncertainty of where tomorrow’s engineer will come from, continues to be a primary obstacle in the journey forward. As part of this manufacturing renewal, the students at Oakland University are becoming prepared to serve this industry moving forward, utilizing the latest technologies digitizing manufacturing.  During a recent tour of Oakland University in Rochester Michigan, I learned about their innovative program in the Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) department. 

In 2007, Dr. Robert Van Til, and his associates in the Oakland University Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) department within the School of Engineering and Computer Science, pioneered a unique learning initiative. Starting that year with under 100 students, the program has grown by 10 percent each year. Nearly every junior or senior in the program either finds employment, or a full year paid internship, at local, national, or international companies, before graduation. Due to the university’s convenient location in the metro Detroit area, many of the employment offers come from automotive companies, but students also receive offers from defense, energy and financial organizations as well. 


A Real-world Educational Experience

The ISE program offers a range of undergraduate and graduate courses, designing a curriculum that allows students to think laterally, envision and analyze multiple perspectives in the creative design process. Students are exposed to a range of industry-related subjects including:

  • Introduction to Industrial and Systems Engineering
  • Ergonomics and Work Design
  • Product Lifecycle Management
  • PLM Applications
    • Ergonomics
    • Robotics
    • Change Management
  • Robotic Systems
  • Engineering Project Management
  • Industrial Automation Systems
  • Functional Safety.
  • Workflow Analysis

Siemens has been a big supporter of the program with product donations, training and technical support enabling “real world hands-on” experience for students. Each PLM course focuses on one of the many tools Siemens offers, including Plant SimulationJackProcess Simulate, and Teamcenter.  These digital manufacturing and PLM applications courses give students an in-depth knowledge and real-world experience using the tools’ capabilities to complete several assignments.

In discussing the program with students, there was much enthusiasm about manufacturing and technology and applying the latest methods and technologies.   They expressed how rich the learning experiences had been through coupling the learning environment with meaningful, practical hands-on projects. Further, they talked about the interaction of theory and hands-on training methods using current industry solutions including Siemens software is providing them with the Industry 4.0 skills and knowledge employers are seeking in new employees.   As a result of the program, students from Oakland University are increasingly sought after for intern positions while in school, and for rewarding jobs at graduation. Oakland University undergraduate and master students typically receive well-paid job and internship offers from top companies, such as GM, Fiat Chrysler and Emerson, as early as their junior year. In fact, this happens so regularly that it has become the norm for those who enroll.

Dr. Robert Van Til explaining real-world application in the lab.  This provides Oakland University students with hands-on experience using the latest design, simulation, and deployment tools favored by industry today.

In touring the labs and talking with students, it became obvious that the OU program provides an effectively balanced program by combining theory, engineering, and practical hands-on experiential learning in order to prepare students for industry.  It is an approach that can engage students by providing immediate feedback, and challenging them with real-world engineering and design obstacles, that they will face after graduation.  These valuable experiences not only position students with the knowledge and practical know-how to add value to their organizations as interns and full-time employees, but also deliver the ‘make a difference’ mentality that drives so many of today’s millennials. The students expressed the desire to work for growing companies where you can move up as well as a company that actively wants and helps employees to develop with ongoing training and exposure to new things.  As one student aptly stated, “I want to work for a company that recognizes me as a person and I’m not just a number.”

Students gain valuable skills and experience designing, modeling, and simulating to work out design issues virtually before real-world application.

It’s not all future employees in the program, however. Dr. Van Til shared that 80 percent of the programs master’s students are full-time working engineers. Of the ISE students that aren’t already employed, companies hire some of the remaining students as early their first year in the master’s program, and many undergraduate and master’s students receive part-time paid engineering internships while they complete their coursework.  While undergraduate students need a total of 128 credits to graduate, as Dr. Van Til remarked, “ISE students, who work on PLM-related internships, tend to have completed just 64 - 80 credits before being hired.”  


Priming the Pump - K-12 Outreach

Even as they train and educate tomorrow’s engineers, the program is looking even further down the road. The Oakland University Foundation has been awarded grants from the AT&T Aspire Program and the Comerica Foundation, that are being used to support K-12 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Outreach Workshops for high school students, giving them a taste of what STEM can do for them. “Led by Bill Edwards and other ISE faculty, visiting high school students get to conduct hands-on projects in Lean and Product Lifecycle Management while working with our ISE students and alumni,” Dr. Van Til explained, “rather than just giving the students a tour or a presentation, they do hands-on projects using Plant Simulation and Jack.  The feedback from the K-12 students and their teachers has been very positive.” The K-12 STEM Outreach Workshops promote Industrial and Systems Engineering and Lean Learning by introducing ISE as a field of study to high school students from both a college and career perspective. They are offered during normal school hours and conducted in the OU Engineering Center.

Each session consists of multiple components for the students to explore including:

  • Hands on, tool orientation
  • Lean/Continuous Improvement exercises
  • Ergonomics using simulation tools
  • Product Lifecycle Management
  • Manufacturing Systems Simulation

“This grant can be used to support student expenses as we expand to multiple high schools in Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne County,” said Dennis Wade, director of the Pawley Lean Institute, the ISE department’s partner in putting on these workshops, “In particular, the exposure to ISE will spark interest in the STEM fields of study for both education and potential careers within engineering, and we thank AT&T for their support.”

Students expressed enthusiasm about the program how rich the learning experiences had been through coupling the learning environment with meaningful, practical hands-on projects.


Bill’s Thoughts & Observations

In today’s manufacturing environment where a future skills gap continues to loom, Oakland University is a great example of combining theory and practical hands-on experience to meet the demand for skilled, young engineers, creating new manufacturing models and methods.  In addition, the efforts of Siemens, in working with Oakland University and other educational institutions, exemplifies the leadership and positive corporate outreach that will benefit the whole of the industry.

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