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The Challenges Of Teaching An Interdisciplinary Multi Participant Manufacturing Projects Course

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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

2.405.1 - 2.405.15

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Paper Authors

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Tom L. Powers

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Roger Wright

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O'Neill Burchett

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Michael R. Manning

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Bruce W. Farmer

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Brad Gilbreath

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

Session 2663

The Challenges of Teaching an Interdisciplinary Multi-Participant Manufacturing Projects Course

Brad Gilbreath, O'Neill Burchett, Bruce W. Farmer, Michael R. Manning, Tom L. Powers, Roger Wright New Mexico State University


Good projects courses simulate the real world, generate student enthusiasm, and are rich in learning experiences. One way to enhance the real-world nature of projects courses and enrich the learning experience is to incorporate customers and senior managers--groups similar to those students will encounter on the job after they graduate--into the course. We recently team taught a manufacturing projects course to master's-level engineering and business students. This graduate course included five participant groups: instructors, students, graduate assistants, sponsors, and board members who acted as senior managers. Although including multiple participant groups enriched our students' experience in the course, it also complicated our job as instructors. This paper includes a description of our course, challenges we encountered while teaching it, and our thoughts about how to cope with those challenges.


There we were, only one month into the semester, and one of our student project teams already wanted to drop their project. The team's board of directors, comprised of senior business people we'd asked to participate in the course, was advocating finding another project and sponsor. Each of our projects had been sponsored by a local business, and this particular sponsor had been challenging to work with. Nevertheless, we were shocked by what we were hearing. The team had barely gotten to know its sponsor, yet, because they felt he was uncooperative, the team and its board wanted to dump him and find another project and sponsor. We were alarmed at the thought that our students would leave our course thinking that, in industry, you can simply dump customers you deem "difficult." The situation cried out for an intervention. We interrupted the board's discussion and argued that it was too early to dump the sponsor and give up on the project. As we stated our unpopular opinion, the tension became palpable.

Through incidents like that, we learned that projects courses, where students work on projects from industry, can be difficult to teach. And projects courses can be even more challenging when you add multiple participant groups (e.g., sponsors and board members) and disciplines (e.g., engineering and business) to a course.

In this paper we describe challenges we encountered while teaching a master's-level, multi- participant, interdisciplinary manufacturing projects course. We also provide advice for instructors planning to teach a similar course--advice we could have used but had to learn by experience.

Powers, T. L., & Wright, R., & Burchett, O., & Manning, M. R., & Farmer, B. W., & Gilbreath, B. (1997, June), The Challenges Of Teaching An Interdisciplinary Multi Participant Manufacturing Projects Course Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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