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Improving Quality In Introductory Industrial Engineering Through Case Studies And Communication

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.228.1 - 2.228.12



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Paper Authors

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Shane Henderson

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Leslie A. Olsen

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John Birge

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3657

Improving Quality in Introductory Industrial Engineering through Case Studies and Communication

John Birge, Shane Henderson, Leslie Olsen University of Michigan


We describe an introductory course in industrial engineering that uses case studies, teamwork, public policy issues, and a focus on the communication demands on engineers to provide —at the beginning of a student's career—a synthetic view of the role of industrial engineers in society. The course covers typical industrial engineering subdisciplines such as engineering economics, operations research, inventory control, logistics, route planning, and location analysis. Instead of surveying a list of topics, the course provides some basic background on financial decision making and then requires students to work in teams on public-policy oriented case studies. The case studies require students to apply technical tools in a "real-life" context, derived from actual consulting experience; to deal with the ethical, social, political, and communication issues inherent in real situations; and to communicate the results of their analyses to both managerial and technical audiences. The paper will describe the class, two cases, and the integration of the writing component; provide a sample syllabus; and present an evaluation showing improvements in communication, general understanding, and motivation for additional study in industrial engineering.

Background and Summary

The course we describe in this paper is the entry point into the Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) curriculum at the University of Michigan. Students are generally in their second year of study, but many students at other levels from other engineering disciplines also elect the class. The total enrollment is 130 to 180 per term.

Traditionally, this course has provided a taste of the entire curriculum without obtaining any depth in any single area and followed standard lecture format with a single text and weekly homework assignments completed individually. While enrollment remained high, many students expressed dissatisfaction due to repetition of material in later classes and perceptions of low value added from the course.

We decided to revise the course to address these shortcomings and also to expose students to the environment of a practicing industrial engineer and to improve students’ technical communication and team skills. We decided to change the class format to concentrate on a few industrial engineering skills and to use cases with analyses completed in teams.

We found that the cases and teams were a valuable teaching aid and were preferred by students. We also believe they enhanced students’ understanding of core material and their technical writing skills.


Henderson, S., & Olsen, L. A., & Birge, J. (1997, June), Improving Quality In Introductory Industrial Engineering Through Case Studies And Communication Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6608

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