WESTERN STUDENTS PUT BRAINS                                                                                                             

Image: Western students assist Foothills Industries of Marion in moving to a new location.
Western students assist Foothills Industries of Marion in moving to a new location.

CULLOWHEE – In their careers, professional project managers can expect to work on some pretty big problems – ranging from cleanup operations after a devastating hurricane to information technology solutions for software snags that can shut down a company.

Before they face such extreme situations on the job, students need to practice their problem-solving, leadership and planning skills, said Phil Sanger, associate professor of engineering and director of the Center for Integrated Technologies at Western Carolina University. That's why Sanger asked 25 students in his project management class to help Foothills Industries of Marion move to a new location.

“As part of Western's ongoing outreach to businesses throughout the region, I was touring Foothills Industries to see if they needed engineering assistance. When we started talking about their upcoming move, I knew my project management class could help the company and gain experience for themselves at the same time,” Sanger said. “We were pleased to have a complex project that will benefit the community and save money for our client.”

Foothills Industries is a nonprofit corporation that employs and serves people with disabilities. The workers manufacture and package operating room surgical drapes for use by the medical industry. After 28 years at the 25,000-square-foot location on Lukin Street , the organization needed to move its equipment and staff to new space that's nearly twice as big in McDowell County 's certified industrial park on Rockwell Drive.

After consulting with Joy Shuford, Foothills' chief executive officer, Sanger's students broke down the move into manageable pieces and plotted the sequence of tasks and priorities. On a brisk November weekend, they rolled up their sleeves to pitch in and see how much they could get done, according to their detailed plan.

“We were extremely pleased with the volume of furniture and equipment that was moved on the first Saturday,” Shuford said. “I had anticipated that work would consume two days but because of the good planning and efforts of all, we exceeded all our expectations.”

Sanger says he and his crew of students went back again the following Saturday to put the finishing touches on the job. The students finished the project ahead of schedule and the client was satisfied, Sanger said.  “That's a great start for their engineering careers.”

For more information on engineering or technology programs at Western, call (828) 227-2159 or visit http://et.wcu.edu/ .

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Last modified: Friday, December 16, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Western Carolina University