Caterpillar converges with colleges: Students and professionals collaborate to build air valve

Students got a glimpse into the demands of big business this semester, as engineering and business majors collaborated with Caterpillar Inc. to design an air-valve.

Bradley has a long history of company-collaborative projects like this, including work with solar power generation, efficient radiant heaters and medical instrumentation. According to Lex Akers, Dean of Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology, students who participate in these projects will find themselves at a major advantage.

[Students] get experience [in] solving todays real-world industrial problems, Akers said. The skills developed are [enhancing] technical skills, working with professionals and [participating in] convergence projects. They also work with other students from other disciplines.

Additionally, Akers said students are not the only ones who benefit from these types of projects.

The industry gets smart, young people who provide a different viewpoint on solving a problem and an opportunity to get to know students for consideration for hiring, Akers said.

The project began in August 2016 when Caterpillar brought it to Bradley. Marketing, finance and engineering students each had different roles in assessing and designing the air-valve.

Steven Soltykiewicz, a senior quantitative finance major, dealt with the logistical side of the development.

I was in charge of all the [finances] and sorting through data, Soltykiewicz said. This included putting together graphs of potential revenue, comparison graphs with competitor information and a business proposal that we submitted to Caterpillar at the end of the project.

The group worked anywhere from 20 to 30 hours a week, broken down into individual and group work. John Sullivan, a senior mechanical engineering major and team captain of the project, described the work as eye-opening.

We had to learn how to work with people of different disciplines, Sullivan said. Converging together with people of business [backgrounds] in addition to learning how the professional industry works while working with Caterpillar was quite the learning curve.

While the project has been new and challenging, the team said they benefited in developing skills that cant often be taught in the traditional classroom setting.

While completing the project, we were able to work on collaboration, time management and leadership skills, Sullivan said.

Soltykiewicz agreed, admitting the teams biggest challenge was communicating with the other members.

The engineeering students wouldnt communicate with us [business students] and thought we knew everything. We were very separated and [incohesive] in the beginning, Soltykiewicz said. Around mid-October [and] early November, we started to converge more, and at the end of the project, we were one whole team.

By the time the project was completed in April 2017, the students had created a real prototype, sent it off for testing and gained a better experience collaborating with a major company, which could help for future job prospectives.