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LTU student applies classroom lessons in the workplace

Release Date: October 11, 2013
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LTU student Ashley Meade has gained real-world experience at Central Conveyor Company in Brighton.

Editor’s Note: This article about LTU senior Ashley Meade recently appeared in KEEN’zine, a publication of the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN), a network of U.S. universities including LTU that strive to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in undergraduate and technology students. Funding comes from the Kern Family Foundation. The photo is by Mike Fagan.

One of the primary traits of a KEEN engineer is the ability to identify and pursue business opportunities, whether they knock loudly, or sneak in the back door unnoticed by anyone else. Forward-looking engineers who recognize and seize such opportunities will have a head start on achieving success.

For civil engineering student Ashley Meade – a senior at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich. – opportunity came outside of her chosen major. Still, she saw it as a great way to expand her knowledge and broaden her horizons.

“Peg Pierce, director of Career Services at LTU, set up a mechanical engineering internship program with Central Conveyor Company,” Meade explains. “She told me about it and encouraged me to apply. Because I am a civil engineer, I was worried that I wouldn’t be considered for a more mechanical field, but a couple of weeks later I was invited to come in for an interview.”

Pierce’s confidence in Meade’s ability was justified, and it wasn’t long before Ashley became Central Conveyor’s first intern, working in the engineering department at the corporate headquarters in Brighton, Mich. Central Conveyor is a 20-year-old company that designs and builds customized material handling, storage retrieval, and automated conveyance systems. The conveyors can either be designed and engineered as stand-alone units or fully integrated with existing manufacturing lines.

At Central Conveyor, Meade has already provided extra value to clients. One such opportunity came when she was tasked to meet with a customer to provide a health assessment of installed equipment. She met with the customer’s team and was asked to put together a report. Because the request was fairly general, Meade decided to create a new process and provide more than the customer had requested.

She carefully weighed the customer’s needs, then consulted with people in her office. Armed with this input, she took the next step. “I provided the form that the customer asked for, and then on top of that I added a supplemental information sheet,” she says. In addition to the engineering information, she included material that was color-coded, added comments based on a field inspection, and provided photos that tied it all together.

“In the report, we noted other areas of concern that were not listed in the specification,” she adds. “This was a courtesy and ethical decision we made that could save time and/or a life. Members of our company were pleased with the final representation of the information, and are looking to adopt it as a standard template for future assessments.”

This approach not only gave the customer valuable information that they hadn’t requested, but information that Central Conveyor’s competitors don’t provide. “The customers didn’t really know what they’d be getting, and they didn’t really have any expectations,” according to Meade. “Because of the clarity of the documentation, we can secure future job-related prospects.”

The internship, which began in Meade’s junior year, has provided her with other valuable learning experiences. When asked what her duties encompass, she answers, “The question should be: what have I not done in my work at Central Conveyor? The answer would be, I have not made coffee – which is surprising, considering the amount our department consumes.”

Her big-picture approach and entrepreneurial mindset allow Meade to work on more than just narrow projects. “I spend most of my time focused on work for the engineering department, but I’ve also worked with the estimating, purchasing, project management, and fabrication groups. In addition, some assignments have involved coordinating with other engineering firms and vendors.” Her exposure to entrepreneurial engineering, which began in her freshman year at LTU, was critical.

“Going through the courses and the work experience I’ve gone through has made me think about the big picture and not just about the individual projects,” she says. “I’ve had to think about the people I affect. I have to think of the vendors, like how are you affecting their company? You also have to think of the organization of the project – can you get management to help you, can you get the fabrication team to help you? Some people are so tunnel-visioned that they don’t necessarily understand the bigger picture.”

Meade quickly learned that organizing and managing data is crucial. “When I started, the systematic procedure of how we process documents and keep track of all the information was drilled into my head. Entering our busiest season, my boss, Mike Fagan, gave me the responsibility to coordinate with the outsourced engineering companies we use. It was my job to receive design drawings and documents, make sure that they had the proper notation, and could be followed by our fabrication shop before saving everything to our network. It was more complex than one would think because I was coordinating with three different companies on multiple projects.”

Collaboration with coworkers has helped expand her knowledge and proven particularly valuable, Meade says. “Mike Fagan has been a huge mentor to me and has encouraged the other engineers to help me learn more about the industry and their areas of expertise. He likes to challenge me with projects where I can figure things out on my own, while coworkers help me learn and get the job done. Everyone works on the same team, and I’ve never been spoken down to or taken advantage of just because I am the intern.”

Meade speaks just as highly of her experience at Lawrence Tech, an institution that has fully embraced the KEEN program and its objectives. “My professors have helped me in so many ways, both inside and outside of the classroom,” she says. “At LTU, I’ve had my hand in many group projects, so learning to collaborate in a team setting and develop effective communication skills made it easier to succeed at Central Conveyor. I feel that the experience that’s taught at school has really given me the knowledge and flexibility to fit the needs of the company I work for.”