Published December 13, 2016
The intellectual power of a research university is an awesome force. But how can those outside the institution — particularly businesses — access it?
The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has a program that makes its young minds available to local businesses.
“A company can fill out an online form, define the problem and I post it to the UB Career Services job board. The students must submit a resume and cover letter — apply for a job — and we try to build a team or two, depending on the nature of the project,” says Andrew Olewnik, director of the Experiential Learning Program in the engineering school.
Students pursue these opportunities as extracurricular projects to gain experience.
“Everybody goes to class. That’s sort of the minimum requirement. Although companies want a certain GPA, virtually every company will trade a few tenths of a GPA for some outside experience you have,” Olewnik says. “I try to convey that to students at orientation.”
The student teams work four to five hours a week for 10 weeks. Teams are assembled specifically for each challenge. One team had mechanical, chemical and industrial engineering students determine if a small heat exchanger could be made out of plastic with a 3-D printer.
“They did research on materials, worked with a 3-D printer on campus and at the end they gave a report and presentation to the company. They worked with Buffalo Manufacturing Works to get some of their prototype printed,” Olewnik says.
Did it work?
“For this company, they didn’t have a lot of experience with 3-D printing. This gives them a jumping-off point, especially with Buffalo Manufacturing Works,” an advanced manufacturing laboratory funded by the Buffalo Billion economic development initiative, he says.
Some companies identify students through the program to hire as interns.
Curbell Medical, an Orchard Park medical devices company, has had two different teams assist with company challenges, says Don Gibson, vice president of marketing.
“We were looking for innovative thinkers,” he explains. “We really needed to expand our thinking and look at what is happening in the marketplace around new technologies. A vital piece of future growth will be to link into technology that will reduce costs and improve outcomes in health care.”
The company is making products for managing falls, monitoring electrocardiogram (ECG) activity and expanding the scope of patient-control devices that enable hospital patients to call for assistance, access the TV and control their room environment.
“We’re going to be launching a new device and students contributed to some of the new features on the advanced platform,” Gibson says.
On another occasion, a team took a close look at an ECG clip the company makes to connect the lead wire to the adhesive electrode that attaches to a patient’s chest. When patients moved, the clips would sometimes disconnect and trigger a false alarm. The students came up with several variations of new clips that the company is now considering.
“But more valuable than all of that,” Gibson says, “there was a student who saw what we were doing here and enjoyed the experience and applied for an internship and is now employed here full time. That’s a valuable outcome of what we are trying to do here.”
M&T Bank has had the same result.
Mark Kumro, group vice president for technology strategic initiatives, has utilized several undergraduate engineering teams. One group designed and built a tablet app for job applicants to use at job fairs. Recruiters can place confidential notes on the forms and the information can be shared with other departments.
“And the form can be customized with the logos and colors of the schools we are visiting,” Kumro says.
In addition to utilizing their engineering skills, the bank also takes note of the students who contribute in hopes of hiring some.
“That’s the end game of this whole thing,” he notes. “We bring students on for internships and we hope some of them will be turned into full-time employment.”