Industry Advisory Board Brings Professionals and Students Together

The Industry Advisory Board in the Biosystems Engineering Program brings professionals and students together. Encouraging new ideas and keeping the program relevant and up to date with latest industry trends.

Industry advisory boards are utilized in academic programs around the United States, and Michigan State University (MSU) is no exception. Many departments at MSU utilize industry advisory boards to ensure robust and relevant educational programs. The Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) has utilized an industry advisory board since 1997. “The Biosystems Engineering (BE) Industry Advisory Board is mission-critical to our continuous program improvement process, which ensures that our educational objectives, student outcomes, and courses best position our graduates for long-term professional success,” says Bradley Marks, Ph.D., department chairperson and professor. “Their direct and regular engagement with students and faculty has been a significant contributor to our perennial success in the ABET accreditation process.”

Board members are from the food, environmental, energy, and health sectors. Current Board Chair Laura Doud, PE, is an Environmental Engineer Specialist in the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). “As a member of the Department of Biosystems and Agriculture Engineer Industry Advisory Board, I believe a diverse industry board provides strong representation from different backgrounds and experiences to build innovative and relevant academic programming as well as creating employment opportunities for students during their time at MSU and beyond.” said Doud. 

One of the ways the Board engages with students is by engaging with the BE Senior Design Class. The BE Senior Design class is a year-long course where students design solutions for problems that clients bring to the table. BAE associate professor Luke Reese, Ph.D. is the lead instructor for the senior design class.

“The BAE Industry Advisory Board consists of about 20 academically trained engineers and professionals who carry titles containing words like “PE, senior manager, vice president, director, or principal.” said Reese. “The board meets once in the spring and fall semesters. They engage as mentors, resource specialists, and evaluators with senior design teams at both meetings. In the fall, board members engage with teams to evaluate their understanding of their assigned project and the accuracy of the team’s problem statement, objectives, constraints, standards, and technical literature. This evaluation helps the teams to know if they are on the right track for a successful and achievable design project. In the spring, board members are assigned specific teams within their knowledge and expertise and provided a copy of the final design report. Assigned board members evaluate the written report before an oral question-and-answer session with the team. In addition, industry representatives evaluate the public team presentation of the project's importance and skills learned (layperson presentation). The active engagement of the IAB in mentoring and evaluating senior design teams adds another “real-world element” to the learning experience. ABET evaluator feedback from the last two accreditation cycles emphasized the industry advisory board’s strong student engagement as a program strength.”

As industries change, the Senior Design projects change too, and the Board has encouraged students to continue to push the boundaries and bring new ideas to the table. “In the biopharma space, we’ve had an explosion of data accessibility, and subsequently, data consumption and evaluation being translated to action in a meaningful way has become an absolute art form!” said Matt Burtt, Director Clinical Quality Assurance with AbbVie® “The BAE programs have given our students the tools to ask critical questions, interrogate data integrity, challenge the status quo, and make data-driven decisions. This is supported directly by the framework and areas of emphasis in the Senior Design project and supported by their advisors and industry consultants throughout the execution of real-world projects.” 

The impact the Industry Advisory Board has is not limited to the students. The board members feel the impact, too. Cassaundra Edwards, Senior Supply Quality Engineer at Tillamook, is a current member of the board. “My organization, Tillamook, has been positively impacted by the work of BAE Senior Design Teams in that they’ve put fresh eyes on process challenges and given us newer perspectives on how to approach problems.” said Edwards. “Also, many of the students I’ve encountered have developed a high level of tech savviness once they’ve reached their senior year enabling them to apply those skills in solving operational problems in the dairy industry.”

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