The University Record, September 27, 1999

Students get best of both worlds at Tauber Institute

By Rebecca A. Doyle

How likely is it that a business relationship will flourish when it reaches not only across cultures but across the ocean? Can a large equipment manufacturer depend on services provided in another country, culture, climate?

Three U-M students, Heather Blume, William Frey and Lamar Jones, traveled to China to examine these questions as part of a Tauber Manufacturing Institute (TMI) team. TMI has four degree programs through Michigan Engineering and the Business School which integrate “80 percent business and 80 percent engineering” concepts to solve problems.

Blume, Frey and Jones’ worked on site at Caterpillar Xuzhou Limited in Jiangsu, China, collecting and analyzing data, conducting interviews, mapping processes and performing research. Their goal was to find which of three options would work best for Caterpillar. The company was trying to decide whether it was best to rely on a Chinese supplier of parts, build its own plant there and produce them, or begin a joint venture with the supplier where it would have on-site management.

“The whole experience was very beneficial for me,” says William Frey, an MBA student with a concentration in manufacturing. “I have been fascinated by Chinese culture since I was a kid.”

Frey is in the process of changing careers from education to business, and he noted that the TMI opportunity to use his skills in a real situation lent some credibility to the changes he has made in his life.

“Applying the skills we learned in the first year in real situations teaches you a lot,” Frey says. “It was fantastic.”

At least one team of the 26 organized by the TMI involves travel overseas, notes Paul Kirsch, team project and recruitment manager. Working directly with the manufacturing industry and applying business and engineering knowledge gained through their degree programs makes the students valuable assets as they spend spring and summer, 14 weeks in all, on their projects. Corporate sponsors pay students accepted by the program for the summer work in their companies.

On Oct. 1, Jones, Frey and Blume—known as the China Team—will join the 25 other teams in presenting their results before industry representatives, faculty, fellow students and judges. Attendance at Spotlight!, TMI’s annual event, is a must for corporations looking for graduate students who are interested in careers related to manufacturing. Many use the opportunity as a recruiting day, Kirsch says.

Representatives of the 40 corporations who will attend the Oct. 1 event will see students who not only have been part of the corporate manufacturing environment during their projects, but also have demonstrated knowledge and ability in the classroom. The TMI program enrolls only about 60 percent of the students who apply.

The China Team students met not only requirements set forth by TMI—a set of “deliverables” to fulfill—but also met another set of requirements set forth by the William Davidson Institute, TMI’s partner for the China Team’s work. The Davidson Institute provided guidance to the team in cultural partnerships and TMI provided manufacturing guidance. Most projects that take place in developing countries are the result of work by the Davidson Institute to find projects that are suitable for the students.

For more information about the Tauber Manufacturing Institute programs, call Jean Teifer, 998-8160.