ISE Holds Virtual Senior Design Presentation

Panel of jurors includes distinguished alumni

Whether improving the state of charge in lithium batteries or building a renewable cube that filters water for drinking, industrial and systems engineering (ISE) seniors are innovators. This December, for the first time, eighteen four-person teams presented the results of their senior design projects virtually. Their work was judged by a panel of distinguished jurors that included ISE alumni Peter Christian ’75, Stanley Makadok ’64, Tim Pay Yu ’73, and John Sharkey ’79. The alumni jurors were joined by Roman Hlutkowsky, vice president of transportation and logistics products at PowerFleet Inc., principal of the Hlutkowsky Group, and past president of the Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers.

“The first-ever virtual ISE Senior Design Project presentation went off without a hitch,” says department chair Mohsen Jafari. “If we can find a positive to the current pandemic, it allowed us to invite far-flung alumni to participate as jurors.  We were pleased to provide them a convenient, interactive opportunity to give back to the school by engaging with the department and its students.” Watch the presentations here>>

Each student team was allotted 10 minutes to present their projects and answer questions from the judges, which is not a lot of time. Sharkey, who retired in 2018 as vice president-chief of staff to the CEO of Corning Incorporated, was impressed that the teams were able to distill two semesters worth of work into essential elements and takeaways. “As a business leader, I would always seek out skillful communicators – individuals with presence, clarity, economy of expression, and the ability to make points effectively to join my group. These are skills that will serve them well in whatever career path they choose,” he notes.

Sharkey had been on campus last December when students were making their presentations, and was “blown away by the diversity of the problem set and the creativity of proposed solutions.” As a result, he was eager to serve as a judge for this year’s virtual presentations. 

“In every case, the teams chose an interesting problem to address and then presented a crisp, clear, and cogent solution proposal,” he says. “The fact that all of this work was done against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic makes it even more impressive. The ability to deal with adversity while still working collaboratively is a skill that is not often recognized in engineers and analysts so early in their careers.”

Makadok, who was the first student to receive a master’s degree in ISE from the school and went on to have a distinguished career at PepsiCo, is currently the president and founder of Century Management Consultants, Inc. and the chair of the ISE department’s Industrial Advisory Board. While he has attended many senior presentations in person in the past, he notes that this year’s event went off without a glitch. “It was as close to being there as you could be. The only thing I missed was the donuts at the breaks,” he confides.

He was especially impressed by the students’ excellent communication and presentation skills. “This class had high level skills. They were able to convey their thoughts very well. They were able to solve good problems and meet important needs,” he says. “These students have been prepared to be outstanding and will be able to carry their weight in any corporation.”

As someone who has helped set up a system for online teaching, Makadok gives kudos to the department and Jafari for the successful execution of the virtual event.Retired senior pharmaceutical communications executive Tim Yu’s interest in serving as a judge was sparked “by a general desire to assist my alma mater; my interest in hearing about the types of topics and projects that the seniors are interested in pursuing; and in learning about how today’s students are thinking about the engineering life – and how they perceive their future careers.”

Overall, Yu admired the student’s work, particularly considering the limitations posed by COVID-19 restrictions. “I was impressed with the creativity, innovation, utility, and execution of the projects,” he reports. 

“Most impressive was the quality of the presentations, beyond the projects themselves. It gave the seniors the opportunity to face some pressure from their peer competitors and the outside jurors in presenting their projects. These are real world challenges that they will face – and their ability to confront them speaks well to the quality of the ISE program,” Yu adds.

Christian, who is currently a senior consultant with JMJ Entrepreneurial Excellence and BEX, has worked with more than 300 companies and many individuals during a 40-year career. His two recently published books,  What About the Vermin Problem?: A Guide to Avoiding Damaging Business Practices and Influences and Influencers: How Our Relationships Affect and Shape Us distill much of his knowledge and experience. He, too, was impressed by the quality of the presentations, especially since they had to deal with the pandemic. “The work and presentation skills of all of the students was terrific. Dr. Jafari and the entire ISE faculty and staff have done a great job preparing these students for the working world,” he says. “They should be fantastic leaders some day.”

For Christian, who lives 1,300 miles away from campus in Florida, the virtual setup was an added value – and a great way for him to give back to the department and the school. “I’m a proud alum – and faculty and students such as these make me even prouder.”