Industry-Based Practicums Offer Students Real-World Project Experiences

May 22, 2009

Duke's Pratt School of Engineering encourages student collaboration with industry, and the Master of Engineering Management Program (MEMP) fosters such collaboration through practicums, internships, seminars, and workshops. One successful example is the MEM Consulting Practicum Program (CPP) offered through the popular course EGRMGMT 296.

Conceived in 2004 by MEM Directors Jeff Glass and Brad Fox, the CPP provides students with 4-5 industry-based projects per semester with sponsors that have included Microsoft, Parsons Engineering, Alliance One International, and Hill-Rom among others. Modeling the CPP after a management consulting firm, a faculty “supervisor” selects 4-6 student “consultants” per project through a job-application process.

Selected students are responsible for all project planning, execution, management, and client interactions. Students have regular teleconferences (or live meetings) with industrial sponsors to review project progress, and the project culminates in a final presentation to industry executives along with the delivery of a professional-grade report. From proposals to PERT charts to timesheets – the CPP provides a window into how a real consulting team would execute a successful project with industry.

“Finding cutting-edge projects that are of keen importance to the sponsor is one of our top selection criteria,” said Professor Joseph Holmes, Program Manager for the CPP. “As in industry, we measure project success based upon client satisfaction and results, not activity. Other keys to program success are utilizing seasoned industry veterans as project mentors, such as Professor Greg Hopper, who understand the balance of providing guidance to students while letting them find their own way.”

Recent MEM CPP projects have included the following:

    • Students Ishan Dixit, Viswanatha Kanala, Matthew LaFiandra, Aditya Raghu, Anisha Sequeira, and Xiao Zhao developed an Earned Value Management (EVM) tool and strategy for Parsons Engineering;
    • Swetha Kolluri, Harsimarbir Singh, Aboyewa Uduaghan, and Gonzague de Vimal du Bouchet completed an analysis and recommended a strategy on the emerging carbon trading market for Alliance One International;
    • Shannon Connelly, Lauren Knish, Ashok Manepalli, Jay Mattappally, Gautham Pandiyan, Karl Runbeck, and Noel Schexnayder, developed a marketing strategy for an intellectual property portfolio of 40 patents for Protein Polymer Technologies; and
    • Shabnam Khan, Luo Yan Zhou, Yi Zhou developed a strategy for web-based financial management software coming from a spin-out of McLean Wealth Management.

These projects have no “right answer,” and students often struggle with inherent ambiguity and open-ended nature of many of the projects, which leads to many teachable moments. The MEM CPP contributes to creating a “business-savvy engineer”—a key goal of the MEMP.