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August 26, 2020

New curriculum allows ISyE undergrads to specialize

Written By: Tom Ziemer

As the person who spearheaded the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering’s undergraduate curriculum revamp, Amanda Smith is admittedly biased. But as a three-time graduate of the department, she intimately understands the ISyE student experience—and she thinks the new approach will enhance it.

Amanda Smith

“I wish I could have taken this curriculum,” says Smith, the department’s associate chair for undergraduate affairs.

Beginning in fall 2020, ISyE undergrads will have the chance to further explore their career interests through declared focus areas while also developing more skills in data analytics under the revised curriculum.

Students can choose among four branches of industrial engineering: engineering analytics and operations research, healthcare systems engineering, human factors and ergonomics, or manufacturing and supply chain management. Those who prefer a broader experience can pick a general industrial engineering option.

The department believes that by taking more advanced coursework in specific areas that more closely align with their career interests, students who enter industry after graduation will be prepared to contribute immediately.

“It gives students more ownership of their degree, and they get to pick something they really care about and dive deeper into that,” Smith says. “They’re still going to get a bachelor of science in industrial engineering from a top-10 department, full stop. But they’ll be able to explore a bit more.”

In developing the refreshed curriculum, the department analyzed student exit surveys; reviewed other top programs around the country; interviewed faculty, advising staff and students; and consulted with its advisory board, made up of leading alumni working in a variety of industries.

“We’re industrial engineers and we’re always doing continuous process improvements,” says department chair Jeff Linderoth, the Harvey D. Spangler Professor.

While the focus areas will add flexibility to students’ educational experiences, the department has made a base level of data analytics training a uniform requirement—in recognition of the increased emphasis on those skills and methods across all industries.

All students will take a new introduction to engineering analytics course, where they’ll learn about databases and how to analyze, manage, visualize and manipulate data. The department is also developing additional electives that are rooted in solving engineering problems with data tools.

“The world is being driven more by data, and more of our students are being asked to help organizations use data to make better decisions and improve processes,” says Linderoth, noting that modern industrial engineering incorporates new analytics tools and methods such as machine learning.

As part of the shift, the department also overhauled its junior design course to better prepare students for their senior design project experiences.

To create room and flexibility in its curriculum, ISyE removed some extraneous pre-engineering requirements, which will allow students to start their core industrial engineering coursework sooner. All first-year and transfer students will take ISyE 191, The Practice of Industrial Engineering, a course that launched in spring 2019 and helps students explore the four focus areas in addition to familiarizing them with the discipline as a whole.

And, in the spirit of continuous improvement, the department will keep tracking metrics like enrollment numbers, student and alumni feedback, and job placement data to ensure it is preparing students to thrive after graduation.

“At the end of the day, what we care most about is that students are able to be engineers successfully,” says Smith. “That always has been and will continue to be our overarching goal: to make successful industrial engineers, solving real problems.”