Student group bridges the gap between engineering and business

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A revamped student organization housed in the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering is gaining exposure for providing the next generation of engineers and business leaders with opportunities to build industry relationships and explore the importance of collaboration between the engineering and business sectors.

Formerly the Business and Engineering Group (BEG), the group officially became a national chapter of the National Organization for Business and Engineering (NOBE) in February 2015. Since that time, the organization has been actively participating in and planning events geared toward bridging the gap between the engineering and business communities.

NOBE is a national society uniting business, management and engineering organizations from universities across the country. The organization strives to produce and refine leadership internally and develop professional skills in members that can be translated into success in the business world.

“In a vastly increasing globalized world, there are infinite opportunities for engineers to apply their problem-solving skills in a business setting,” said Mohammad Alzayed, a senior in industrial engineering and president of the Penn State NOBE chapter. “Expanding NOBE’s mission to students at Penn State is integral to produce engineers that are leaders in the business world.”

In October, the Penn State chapter of NOBE took part in the University of Pittsburgh’s College of Business Administration and Swanson School of Engineering’s 2015 Undergraduate Supply Chain Management Case Competition. The competition provides students a real-life, supply chain management case study for both business students and industrial engineering students.

A total of nine teams from the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State and West Virginia University participated in the event; this was the first year the competition was open to teams outside of the University of Pittsburgh. Three teams from the Penn State chapter participated in the competition, which included industrial engineering students from University Park and Penn State Behrend, as well as students from the Smeal College of Business and the Black School of Business at Penn State Behrend.

The Penn State team of industrial engineering seniors Devin Cole and Emily Blotzer-Miller, supply chain management senior Ray Keenan and Penn State Behrend finance and accounting senior Kelsey Schupp placed third in the competition and were awarded a $500 prize.

“We worked extremely hard and put in long hours and many late nights to build the organization into what it is today,” said Paul Lynch, assistant professor of industrial engineering at Penn State Behrend. Lynch was a lecturer in the Marcus department and the faculty adviser of BEG/NOBE before moving on to Behrend in the summer of 2015.

“We took ideas from the College of Engineering’s Industrial and Professional Advisory Council, the Service Enterprise Engineering Advisory Board and many other industrial engineering alumni so we could take a holistic approach to bringing together engineering and business concepts in a way that prepares students to be even more knowledgeable—and more of an asset to potential employers—once they graduate.”

The group also hosted a panel discussion in November featuring engineers from different industry backgrounds titled “Opportunities for Engineers in the Service Industry.” One of the featured panelists was Penn State alumnus Charles Schneider who discussed how he became involved in service engineering and the opportunities available for both engineers and business and supply chain leaders in the service sector.

“Often students do not recognize the excellent career opportunities available to them within the vast service industries sector,” said Schneider. “The future of commercial activity, where most students will spend their careers, will be dominated by service industries.”

The U.S. service industry currently employs more than 80 percent of workers, explained Schneider, with that number steadily increasing.

“Beyond the large scope of the opportunity, many service industries are woefully under-engineered,” he added. “This will create jobs for our students focused on improving the productivity and quality of these businesses, allowing them to create successful careers for themselves.”

This semester the group challenged itself to collaborate with a local business in order to experience how to provide consultation services to a real-world client. Dave Lenze, director of the Applied Professional Experience Program in the Smeal College of Business, and Timothy Simpson, professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, industrial engineering and engineering design and co-director of the Penn State Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition, assisted the students in developing a consultation model that could be pitched to companies.

Simpson spent his sabbatical last year working with several local entrepreneurs and start-ups in the State College area, and he saw an opportunity to connect NOBE with a local business. 

“Time and again, start-ups and small firms in town were looking for good engineering talent to help take their company to the next level, but their resources were very limited,” said Simpson. “NOBE’s interest in providing consulting services seemed like a great place to start.”

After approaching a few local businesses, Kerry Small, CEO of Greenway Logistics -- a forward shipping company in State College, Pennsylvania -- agreed to take part in NOBE’s pilot consulting project.

“Kerry was an ideal person to partner with on NOBE’s first consulting project,” said Simpson. “He knows how to work with students, and he was willing to really engage them in his company’s operations and challenge them to apply their engineering skills to a real business environment.”

Students were divided into logistics, sales and technology teams that are collaborating to provide appropriate recommendations in each area based on information provided by the company. The teams are scheduled to give their final presentation and recommendations to Small on Dec. 8.

“Working with the NOBE consulting group brings a valuable perspective that is often missing from business, especially smaller business,” said Small. “I have found that the NOBE engineers bring a set of skills that my company does not possess, and their ability to provide specific, actionable suggestions is invaluable.”

The Penn State NOBE group continues to expand its marketing efforts across campus and will be hosting the NOBE national conference Feb. 12-14 on the University Park campus.

“There is no doubt the Penn State NOBE chapter will become a model for other NOBE chapters to emulate,” said Lynch. “In addition, I feel as though the model taken by the Marcus department to bridge the gap between business and engineering will become a model for other industrial engineering programs across the country.” 

For more information or to get involved in NOBE, join the Facebook group or contact Mohammad Alzayed.

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Last Updated December 04, 2015