By Elle Howe
A group of ISE students spent the summer in Prague discovering the opportunities of being an engineer in a global economy while battling against adverse circumstances and an impending deadline.
Six weeks, thirteen engineers, and miles upon miles of trekking through Prague in every direction, either wandering or with purpose. The program description listed this experience as one that would “Introduce and prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of being an engineer in a global economy”, but it was far more than that. The class combined with trips, weekend getaways, and real-life case studies was not only eye-opening but one of the most memorable experiences of my student life thus far.
As a rising professional engineer, it is vital in today’s world to gain as much international experience as possible, and Prague was a perfect opportunity to do just that. In the class ISE 495 – Global Systems and Operations Management, some of the topics discussed included: supply chains, risk management, capacity planning, and quality. Our class field trip was to a Skoda manufacturing plant – how cool is that? And even though it was summertime and we were abroad, yes, we still did have homework. With those particular subjects being taught in class, this meant we incorporated decision trees, FMEA charts, and other risk management tools into our assignments. However, our assignments were not one’s typical Q&A while discussing what you have learned. One of the best qualities about ISE 495 was that it included case studies containing real-life examples and problems that needed to be solved. It was made clear that not every solution would be the same, but that did not mean they were incorrect. Another helpful bit of advice from that course: as engineers we have to remember there is not only one right answer when it comes to business decisions. We can collect data, analyze trends, and predict outcomes as much as we please, but it has to be remembered that not all company decisions can be made using only formulas.
Responsibility also played a key factor during those six weeks. With the city of Prague as our playground and what seemed like the world at our fingertips, we did have to make sure our work was getting done. For each case study we were divided into groups of three to four people. Working around different schedules, spotty Wi-Fi and the daily distractions of Prague proved to be a challenge in itself. All the while we were supposed to be solving companies’ problems as well? It seemed impossible. My favorite near-catastrophic experience happened one of the first weeks there. It was already a known fact that if you wanted internet access outside of the Institute you either had to stay up until all hours of the night, or go to a nearby coffee shop. I typically opted for the latter. One night, our third case study was due. We were so close to completion that we forgot the Institute actually closed down – and that meant no more internet! Triple saving our progress and collecting everything we had, my group went back to our residence hoping we could somehow connect. No such luck. It was 11:00PM and the case study was due in 59 minutes. Trying to decide the closest shop that would still be open, we agreed to the McDonald’s a few tram stops away. On our way to the stop, we walked by a local bar, Puerto Rico’s, with one of their neon-lit signs reading “Free WI-FI”. Score! So two students dressed in not-so-appropriate-bar clothes arrive, and the second attempt at connecting to the internet was in progress. Successful connection, assignment fully uploaded, preparing students for the challenges on a global scale? Check.
Trying to see as much of Prague as possible during the week, and the rest of the world every weekend, our motto could have easily been “You can sleep when you’re dead”. During those six weeks our group had survived a record flood in the city of Prague, visited five different countries, and successfully solved ten different companies’ problems. If the time of our visit was extended, who knows what else we could have accomplished. Our next greatest challenge: obtaining our degrees so this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity can possibly turn into part of our everyday routine.