The Business of Engineering - Expert Voices Fall/Winter 2017
December 21, 2017
BY: Dr. Chad Korach, assistant professor of mechanical engineering
Engagement between engineers and management has taken place since the earliest existence of engineering...
The first engineers were involved with bettering the military of a queen, a pharaoh, a king, or an emperor. The engineer’s bosses held the purse strings and mainly dictated what needed to be done and at what cost. Simultaneously, engineers that tinkered, either on their own time or under the auspices of development for their boss, were creating new ideas that helped not only further their own careers but society as a whole. These developments led to large-scale infrastructure projects, many of which society still benefits from today.
Fast forward to the modern engineer who wears many hats, from technical expert to project manager to business owner. The distance between engineers and management has continued to shrink, where expectations for engineers to understand basic business concepts has become the norm. Be it an engineer working at a Fortune 500 company or a self-employed consultant, the need to connect engineering and business skills stems from the necessity to provide value in an efficient manner. Knowledge of payback periods on a project, cost estimates, and planning tools are only the starting point. Engineers with the understanding of the necessity of risk, a customer’s/client’s needs, and the importance of taking action are tapping into the core of the entrepreneurial mindset.
At Mount Union, the connection between engineering and business is one of the four pillars of exceptional engineering education upon which our engineering programs are based, along with communication skills, global engineering experience, and hands-on engineering education.
I first became engaged with the connection between engineering and business when I started working with Mike Kachilla, associate professor of management. Mike and I have worked for the last four years on introducing engineering and business students to each other through project-based learning. Students in the Introduction to Business course determine a need based upon their own ideas and research. Ideas that are product related are then passed from Mike to me, and I introduce them to engineering students in the Product Design and Development course. The engineering students are charged with determining the needs of potential customers as they develop design alternatives, ultimately decide on a final design, and build a working prototype.
During the semester, engineering and business students are encouraged to meet with each other to discuss the ideas and the progress of the development. In the spring of 2017, a group of engineering and business students developed an electric personal paraglider (ePPG) (as pictured on cover) that ran on rechargeable battery power instead of relying on the traditional gas-powered engines, which you can see on the cover of this magazine. Not only was this an environmentally-conscious design alternative, but their design provided a unique four-propeller drive made possible with the use of electric motors. This was an impressive project designed and built between engineering and business students in one semester!
Entrepreneurship skills are traditionally thought of as being needed by those who want to start or own their own business. Many engineers fall into this category, but the majority do not. An entrepreneurial mindset can be applied to not only starting or owning a business, but also to how one approaches problem solving, develops creative ideas, and engages with one’s audience.
Prior to coming to Mount Union, I worked in a research environment where entrepreneurial skills are needed, but not taught in an organized way. After being exposed to the entrepreneurial mindset and the usefulness of the skills in accomplishing projects and developing new ideas, I appreciate the importance and impact they have for our graduates, the careers they engage in, and the companies that employ them. It has been exciting to be part of a team that sees the benefits that engineering and business can afford each other!