A novel collegiate program that combines students from multiple disciplines
is seeing solid success, measured in part by corporate investments for the
development work students to over the course of a full school year.
The interdisciplinary program at the University of Illinois at Chicago
combines engineers, industrial designers and business majors, getting them to
work together on projects that are set by corporate sponsors. Those sponsors
provide overall goals and the support the university needs to run the class.
Maytag and Cosco are among the firms that have paid $50,000 for the ideas that
the students provide.
For that investment, the companies get as much as 4.5 man years of effort as
the students work over the course of 30 weeks. The projects are normally
designed to move the company into areas where it has minimal presence. “This
year, we’re working with an innovative toymaker that wants to bring its patented
air motor to new markets,” says Stephen Melamed, adjunct assistant professor at
During most of the first semester, 30-40 students identify the problems given
them and start looking at opportunities for new products. The next step is to
define traits for products. In the second semester, they do mock-ups of actual
products and describe the required technologies while also suggesting marketing
A key aspect of the effort is to make sure the interdisciplinary teams
understand each other and work towards a common goal. “Team dynamics are the
number one issue for any team’s success,” Michael Scott, another UIC professor
who spoke during a Manufacturing Week technical conference. He notes that
student feedback has been very positive to date, as has corporate response.