Since 1975, fourth-year undergraduates in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) have completed Senior Design as a semester-long capstone course required for graduation. The course presents an opportunity for ISyE students to work on real-world design problems and put their ISyE skills into practice by exploring a client’s problem and designing a deliverable solution.
“One challenge we see students grappling with in Senior Design is framing the problem,” explained Dima Nazzal, ISyE director of professional practice and Senior Design advisor. “What are the client’s motivations and goals for this project, and what are the pain points for the client? Ultimately, the students have to make a case for their projects in terms of value to the client.”
As a result, ISyE has developed a new class, Cornerstone Modeling and Design (ISYE 3803), that enables undergraduates to explore problem-framing prior to their Senior Design experience. The course, taught by Nazzal, was offered for the first time in fall 2018, and it trains students to develop, write, and present proposals to solve problems that require the use of ISyE methodology.
The class uses general case studies drawn from past Senior Design projects — from network optimization for an oil and gas company to guest flow and queues in a sports stadium to efficient patient scheduling for a health care clinic.
The students in the class are divided into small teams, and each team works on the same project for several weeks. Team members request data, conduct research, analyze the system and data in search of opportunities, and present their proposal to the whole class. The variety of teams — coupled with the non-stylized complex projects — leads to a variety of proposed solutions.
“It’s good for the students to see different opportunities identified for the same problem, because it demonstrates that creativity is part of problem-solving,” Nazzal said.
Emma Baubly, a fourth-year ISyE student, took ISYE 3803 the first time it was offered and now serves as an undergraduate teaching assistant for the course. “The teams are given problems that don’t necessarily have a single answer, which can be frustrating for Tech students,” Baubly reflected. “And as a result, while this may be one of the more challenging courses ISyE students will take, I think it’s also a class that will add tremendous value to their Georgia Tech education.”
ISyE fourth-year Kevin Kwon took the Cornerstone class in spring 2019. “This was my favorite class that I’ve taken at Tech,” he said. “We had to repeatedly draft proposals for our ‘client,’ just like Senior Design teams do. Writing the proposals gave us practice framing the problem so as to be as effective as possible for our clients.”
Kwon, who is taking Senior Design this spring, also appreciated that the class structure forced him to focus on important soft skills such as collaboration, giving presentations, and communicating with clients.
“I learned that teamwork is extremely important,” he said. “It’s not just about the intellectual capability of a person, but how you work within a group and if you’re able to compromise. In addition, if an ISyE student wants to go into consulting — or any field that requires client interaction — this class will benefit them.”
Nazzal concurred. “Our students have excellent technical skills in analysis, modeling, and coding. This course challenges them in new ways when they realize that there is not one correct final proposal to solve a complex problem, and that the path to the finish line is not linear. Just as important, this course trains them to function as teams, to experience productive conflict, and to compromise to achieve a common goal. They work extremely hard throughout the semester, and it will pay off in Senior Design and in their job interviews.”
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering