Communication, Engineering

Taught by a familiar face, engineering, comm students work together on real-world challenges

Marquette’s interdisciplinary Product Realization course is no ordinary college class. Of course, its professor is no ordinary teacher. Engineering and communication students have the unique opportunity to work together to develop real solutions to challenges brought forth by area businesses — and they do so under the guidance of a noted campus figure: President Michael R. Lovell.

President Lovell, who several decades ago designed and began teaching the course at a previous institution, brings keen expertise into the classroom. He has three mechanical engineering degrees including a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, and he has received awards from the National Science Foundation, Society of Manufacturing Engineers and numerous other organizations. President Lovell is also a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and National Academy of Inventors and holds multiple U.S. and global patents.

President Lovell’s team teaches alongside other Marquette faculty and staff. This past semester, he was joined by Dr. Carmel Ruffolo, associate vice president for corporate engagement and a research associate professor of biology, and Dave Wilcox, a professional in residence in strategic communication.

The team says the course’s goal is to mimic a true product design process and allow students a space to navigate its challenges, including meeting the company’s and its customers’ needs, coping with technological problems across a broad societal context, and using modern communication techniques to present their work clearly and effectively to the corporate sponsors.

President Lovell says the fall 2022 cohort was one of the best yet.

“I have been teaching the Product Realization class for more than 20 years, and this past semester was especially impressive,” he says. “All five teams performed at an extremely high level and delivered a functional product prototype to their corporate sponsors.”

The fall 2022 corporate sponsors included A.O. Smith Corp., Clarios Inc., Deublin Co., Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Kohler Co.

Bringing students, skill sets together

Product Realization brings together engineering and communication students, challenging them to tap into their respective, disparate knowledge and skill sets and work together on multidisciplinary teams.

Margo Hartman, a senior studying digital design and marketing, and her team were paired with Kohler Co. to develop a new shower head that optimizes water pressure. She says the course allowed her to use skills she has learned over her time at Marquette.

“Product Realization was the first opportunity in which I could take all of my classes and the knowledge that I gained from them and put it into one project,” Hartman says. “I was taking resources from classes that I had taken freshman, sophomore, junior and senior year.”

Senior mechanical engineering major Mario Moreno worked on the Clarios Inc. team to develop a monitoring device that would use Bluetooth connectivity to send vehicle battery information to a smartphone application. He and his team spent the semester researching existing similar products and patents, and then prototyping the monitoring device, mount and app for Clarios.

Moreno believes more classes at Marquette should combine teams of students from other colleges.

“It was very interesting working with communication majors since I rarely get to interact with other disciplines in an academic setting,” he says. “I think Marquette could use more classes like this to promote community among the student population because currently engineers don’t cross over much with other types of students.”

A win-win experience for students, industry partners

The student teams worked closely throughout the semester with their corporate sponsors to develop products and prepare for final presentations to showcase their prototypes. Moreno says this was one of the most rewarding parts of the class.

“I liked interacting with my industry sponsors because their insight was very valuable,” he says.

President Lovell says sponsoring a student team is also beneficial for the corporations.

“By bringing students into the development process, the corporate partners often get out-of-the-box product ideas that are highly innovative and different from what they have done in the past,” he says. “In addition, by working with their team over an entire semester, corporate partners can assess the students’ capabilities and potentially build a talent pipeline for future employment.”

Wei Song, director global product line leader at Clarios Inc. who partnered with Moreno and his teammates, agrees.

“At Clarios, we believe that part of our global responsibility is to support sustainable communities where we live and work. By partnering with Marquette, we are supporting an important source of higher education in our community as well as getting access and exposure to potential future talent for Clarios,” she says. “The passion, the teamwork and the energy from my team of students was really impressive. I have learned a lot from them.”

Moreno and Hartman recommend the class to any student seeking a unique opportunity to connect with industry partners and fellow Marquette students across disciplines.

“I would recommend this class to anyone. I think it was the most exciting class that I have taken, and I have told so many people about it already,” Hartman says.

Eligible engineering and communication students who are interested in the Product Realization course should contact their adviser.

Faculty members across all disciplines interested in working with industry partners on classroom projects should contact Ruffolo in the Office of University Relations.