A primary goal of the Center is to develop a new generation of manufacturing engineers, more effective in industry, accustomed to working in cross-disciplinary teams, and better positioned to lead system-level R&D in a global economy. Focusing on increasing industry interaction and backgrounds, creating an outstanding learning environment for graduate and undergraduate students, guided by the systems perspective. ERC students are normally from five engineering departments (aerospace, electrical, mechanical, material science, and industrial), as well as from the School of Education; the College of Literature, Science and Arts; the School of Information; and the School of Art and Design, forming the basis for the cross-disciplinary research. The interdisciplinary environment that results creates a highly beneficial climate for impacting the ERC culture and also teaching beyond the Center.

Building Integrated Research Teams

Teams that integrate diverse experiences and backgrounds benefit from a rich learning environment that provides cross-functionality and a broad foundation for growth. The RMS interdisciplinary project structure is augmented with successful initiatives that bring students from various cultures with unique achievements together. The bi-weekly faculty/student seminars, monthly Thrust Area meetings, and quarterly Technical Advisory Committee meetings are some of the ways in which students are exposed to the cross-disciplinary nature of the research by listening to presentations from different and diverse areas. Another is the common work area; students are assigned desks based on their Thrust Areas and projects to promote interaction, discussion and teamwork by proximity on a daily basis. Bi-weekly student meetings coordinated by members of the Student Leadership Council provide student engagement in the life of the Center.

Workshops and Orientation

In the past , The Student Leadership Council (SLC) has presented a New Student Orientation at the beginning of each Fall semester, which included a PowerPoint presentation, a Q&A session, a tour of the ERC and a reception. All undergraduate and graduate students were required to attend the orientation to help them with assimilation into the ERC/RMS team. This gives new students a feel for where their particular research project fits into the scope of the Center. The Orientation is always a popular event where students meet and interact, not only with each other but all of the faculty, research scientists and staff.

To prepare students for job and internship seeking, the ERC has traditionally offered  Communications workshop at the end of the winter semester. The 5-hour class included resume writing, cover letter writing, interview skillbuilding tips with video-taping and a session on researching companies to find the perfect position.

Dr. Reuven Katz also offers the workshop Managing Your Thesis as a Project. His class is so popular that it is offered 3 times per year and open to all PhD students in the Rackham Graduate School. It is a valuable class for students to learn time management, organization and self-discipline. It has been a mandatory class for ERC students.

Student Initiative

Students have taken the initiative of impacting culture in the Center by scheduling their weekly meetings to spotlight two to four students per meeting who share their research challenges and successes. Periodically, faculty and research scientists are also invited to share their research during the weekly meetings.

Prior to Fall 2002, a Student Leadership Council (SLC) chapter did not exist in the NSF ERC Best Practices Manual. At the November, 2001 NSF Annual Meeting of all ERCs, our SLC volunteered to conduct a study of the role played by SLCs at various centers across the country with the goal of identifying “best practices.” Toward this end, a comprehensive survey was sent to SLCs.

The survey addressed issues in key areas generally relevant to all SLCs, such as organizational structure, communication with students, faculty, and industry, social and outreach activities, site visit preparations, and facilities management. Specific questions were also included to address the special features of ERCs that span multiple universities.

The responses from the survey were compiled and analyzed by a special committee set up by the SLC at ERC/RMS for this purpose. The team members jointly compiled data from the survey, summarized findings, and drew insights on “SLC best practices” by correlating a center’s activities to its stated mission and goals and how well its activities helped in achieving those goals. The entire effort spanned nearly five months.

Industry Interaction

One of the most efficient and effective ways to get students and industry to interact is through internships. Students bring their knowledge of ERC research to the companies who, in turn, offer the student hands-on work experience in a “real world” environment. The experience can then be brought back to the RMS lab when students return after the summer. This knowledge transfer benefits research in two ways, creating an awareness of and ability to circumvent potential industry issues, and creating a more industrially viable research product.

The most important element in educating industry-relevant engineers is the project meetings in which students make presentations and are exposed to the way that industry thinks: milestones, goals, timelines, etc. The second important element is the poster presentations during the TAC meetings. Through these programs, we have brought industry representatives to the Center to share their relevant experience with the Center researchers and students. We host industry representatives at our bi-weekly faculty and student meetings and we continue to bring researchers from both industry and academia to college-wide weekly Manufacturing Research Seminars.

Mentoring Program

We have made an effort to foster a flow of knowledge that will assist with the retention of students in the ERC and manufacturing in general through use of mentoring programs. To encourage undergraduates to pursue manufacturing and advanced degrees, we provide them with the opportunity to work on research in small teams with graduate students with whom they develop learning and sharing relationships. In addition, we encourage the undergraduates in the Center to seek help on their coursework from the graduate students in the student work center.

In November, 2005, the SLC worked with the Director and the Associate Director for Education to create a mentoring program for students scheduled to take the PhD Qualifying Exam (QE). Twelve current PhD candidates in the Center selflessly gave their free time to organize evening study groups in the eight QE subject areas. The study groups were not only beneficial for the exam takers, but they served to be an excellent community-building experience for the entire group.