An image of a training app that is bright green, yellow, and orange boxes on a black screen. There is scoring information in the bottom left corner fo the image.

Solving real world problems

Penn State Beaver students had the opportunity to apply what they learned in the classroom to help large corporations like FedEx.
By: Kristen Doerschner

From designing a warehouse to loading an airplane, Penn State Beaver students teamed up with local industry during the spring 2020 semester to find solutions to real-world problems.

“These partnerships with key industry leaders give our students access to cutting edge industry advancements, so that when they graduate, they already have a strong professional network and industry experience,” Director of Academic Affairs Carey McDougall said.

“We are so grateful for these collaborations as they mutually pave a path of success for our students and the future of industry.”

Improving the layout

Dr. Andrea Patrucco’s product and supply chain management students Taylor Hebb, Marney Haddad and Nupur Patel used action research to focus on the design of a warehouse for a large company. (Due to confidentiality requirements, the name of the company cannot be disclosed.) 

Field visits and data coding helped the students create a framework and custom design for the warehouse. They considered the need for storage space and traffic flow for both people and forklifts to minimize safety risks.

The results of their research project included the final layout of the warehouse as well as recommendations grouped into three categories: people, process, and equipment and software.

Patel, an accounting major, said the research project helped her to gain experience and learn about real-world jobs.

“I took only one supply chain management class, so when we started doing this project, I was nervous about not knowing a lot about the supply chain,” Patel said. “Dr. Patrucco helped us a lot in understanding the process. Everyone who worked with me was so friendly. No one judged us not knowing supply chain terms, which helped me to gain confidence.”

Patrucco said a project like this is perfect experience for students because it gives them the opportunity to see how key supply chain management topics like warehouse design and management are applied to the real world.

“One of the key skills of PSCM students is problem-solving, which depends on their ability to apply theory to practice,” Patrucco said. “It tests their ability to solve an actual problem for a multinational company — similar to the challenges they will face when they start working. On top of this, students have the opportunity to constantly interact with experienced supply chain managers, and they can ask questions, express their opinions and improve their communication skills without the pressure of being in a work environment.”

The students were selected to participate in the University Park Undergraduate Research Fair under the category of “Business and Entrepreneurship” as a result of their work. 

“Doing this project made me self-confident that when I go apply for my accounting job, I can perform well, knowing that I have real-world experience,” Patel said.

Packages and programming

James Julius’ information science and technology students focused on helping FedEx find a way to train employees to load packages in planes in both an efficient and safe manner.

The students created an app that allows employees to practice loading cargo virtually. The app is essentially a video game that allows employees to practice loading cargo. The app tells the employee if they have properly loaded the cargo hold of the plane and shows them where stacking went wrong. The students took into account various things when creating the game, including allowing a player who may be colorblind to adjust the colors.

Chris Maloney, a spring 2020 IST graduate, said the project helped him to get a head start on learning what he will need to know when completing a project for a professional client. He said he also learned a programming language he had not learned in-depth through his courses.

“The project taught me how to learn new programming languages to complete projects that are assigned to me on my own,” he said. “I learned different requirements to make the project work then learned to make those things happen. When graduating from college, the technology field is constantly changing, and self-learning will always need to continue to keep up to date.”

Julius said the project is important for students in several ways.

“Solving real-world business problems in a semi-assisted manner is crucial to the professional growth of graduating students,” Julius said. “Students need to operate under tight deadlines and work collaboratively in an industry that they're unfamiliar with, using technologies that they may be inexperienced in. This format develops institutional grit and forms a depth of critical thinking and capability to execute that will set Penn State graduates apart in the workplace."

Career Counselor Brenda Schultz emphasized the importance of Penn State Beaver students participating in these types of projects.

“Any opportunity for a student to gain real-world experiences is a benefit to that student as it allows the student to put theory into action. Having opportunities to engage with a potential employer and gain experience in the industry is extremely valuable and can be the ‘something extra’ that allows an employer to choose one candidate over another,” Schultz said. 

“Internships, co-ops, collaborations with industry leaders on research, gig experiences and other practical experiences can make a difference,” she said.