Hoeft T&M Faculty Q&A




Prof. Steven Michael
Outgoing Academic Co-Director, Hoeft Technology & Management Minor Program, Gies College of Business

Q: How has this program evolved since you joined it in 2000? What are you doing now within the program that you weren’t in the early 2000s?

A: The co-curricular activities have been added in pieces over the years. The sponsor board was formed in the 2000’s, and the international trip was added at around the same time. The corporate sponsors have increased their commitments to the program, both in terms of hiring, and in terms of the effort and time of key personnel. They now typically sponsor a day at their site for our juniors in addition to other visits, including capstone project visits.

Intellectually, we have seen more of a shift to digital innovation in addition to our historic emphasis on physical innovation. The capstone projects have also risen in their complexity and their impact. We now routinely use internal corporate data and tools to develop or design operational prototypes, algorithms, models, or processes. The output of our capstone projects is often employed in our partner companies shortly after submission of the capstone final paper in May.

The program has also evolved in that administration of both colleges now routinely employ T&M as a crown jewel to attract undergraduates, as a showcase for corporate engagement, and as an exemplar of intercollegiate cooperation.

Steven MichaelQ: How is the program preparing graduating students for success? Where do many of these students end up after graduation?

A: The students build on their considerable disciplinary knowledge of their college majors, whether business or engineering, and add our program to learn to work together to innovate with new products, processes, or services for the economy.

In addition to the curriculum and related activities, the students develop professional skills by the efforts of the professional staff, which include John Quarton and Ilalee Harrison James; through workshops, guest speakers, and outside activities; many with the active participation of either our corporate partners or our alumni. They also gain an international perspective through an immersion trip visiting corporate partners overseas.

The students go everywhere you would expect the best and the brightest to be. Many of the students from this program go on to top-ranked graduate or professional programs, including engineering, business, law, and medicine, as well as prestigious employers like Apple, Bain, Deloitte, Facebook, and Google, to name a few. Many choose to join our amazing corporate partners. Finally, although it is not a specific aim of the program, some alumni eventually choose an entrepreneurial career.

Q: What can engineering students learn from business students, and vice versa? How do the two disciplines complement each other?

A: In the modern economy, a division of labor is a division of knowledge. Therefore, all successful innovations will require cross functional teams. Learning to lead those innovating cross functional teams, and organizations, is the goal of the program.

A second consideration is that a good idea is not always a good business. What an engineer values is not always what a business professional values. Both are necessary but sometimes they conflict. Learning how those values differ, and when each should be applied, is an important part of the program.

Finally, students learn something of how the other discipline thinks; how that discipline approaches problems; how that discipline solves problems. That make working together much easier and much more fun!

Q: What do you hope T&M students learned from such a challenging end-of-semester in 2020? Any life lessons?

A: We continued to lead project teams through Zoom meetings and Google chats. In many ways, the students are more digitally native than I am, so the work still got done. The students have learned some presentation skills online as well, although they didn’t learn them from me. Overall, the students have been nothing short of heroic in their efforts to deliver what they promised our sponsors and to carry on with intellect and good cheer.

If there is a life lesson here, it is that tough times never last but tough people do. Last spring’s crazy shutdown made the students even tougher.