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Innovation course project capitalizes on new engineering laboratory need

IMSE students Travis Foster, at left, and Greg Prowell, work on electrostatic discharge (ESD) devices they are developing for their Entrepreneurial Innovation Management course. Foster is hot-stripping a wire, while Prowell is getting ready to solder it onto the bracket for the ESD (electrostatic discharge) unit. Students in the background are part of the final testing and packaging line.

The trickle effect of innovation sometimes spreads in unanticipated ways. The opening of the College of Engineering’s new multi-disciplinary laboratories in August also opened a door for business and engineering students enrolled in the fall Entrepreneurial Innovation Management course. This semester, students are fabricating a grounding connection block for an electrostatic discharge (ESD) wrist strap, primarily for use by electrical engineers in the new labs.

Before the opening of the multi-disciplinary laboratories – in which students from all engineering disciplines share equipment and software – each department was granted a set amount of funding which impacted the quality and the amount of equipment purchased. Now MU engineering students are some of the first in the nation to share laboratories between disciplines allowing for the purchase of better equipment. But even as shared workstations revealed benefits, the transition also created a need – one that is being resolved as part of the curriculum of the current Entrepreneurial Innovation Management (E-MILE) course.

Before transitioning into the new facility, the electrical engineering laboratories utilized larger benches with bulky connection blocks to eliminate voltage differences between the user and the circuit components of the workstation. E-MILE students are fabricating and improving a product that when connected to an ESD wrist strap can be used to prevent electrostatic discharge. The miniaturized product is fastened underneath the lab bench and connected to the wrist-strap and instrumentation ground device – readily available to electrical engineering students, and tucked out of the way for others using the same workstations.

Originally funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Department (IMSE) in the College of Engineering and the Management Department in the College of Business continue to offer the entrepreneurial course each fall. While students brainstorm to generate ideas for most products that they create, this is the first year they have been assigned a product with “real-world” use.

“We have never had a product with an actual application. Students are making a component for the same facility that they use every day,” Mike Klote, manager of the engineering laboratories said.

According to Klote, it may be possible to market the product to other universities who have multi-disciplinary laboratories.

About 40 students are enrolled this semester, half business and half engineering.

Luis Occeña, associate professor and interim chair of IMSE, serves as one of the course professors and believes the curriculum is especially beneficial because students run into situations that mirror the real world.

Emily Iovaldi, senior management major, decided to take the course to develop a better sense of the skills that are needed to maintain a business. Iovaldi hopes to open a coffee shop in Eureka, Mo., after she graduates.

“As a business student, I didn’t know all the work behind marketing a product. There is so much research and improving on the product,” Iovaldi said.

Ryan Williams, senior business major who worked on the soldering team, agrees. “In the manufacturing process there are a lot of hang-ups and unexpected problems with the product,” Williams said.

Problems encountered by the class included chipping paint, and the assembly of certain parts taking longer than expected.

“You have to refine the product to be more effective. It really is a great way to get job experience,” Williams said.

“Businesses that fail aren’t prepared for the unpredictable challenges that managing a business offer,” Occeña said.