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ORIE Introduces "MEng Connect" to Help Prepare Students for Business Careers

Friday, November 5, 2010

To better prepare its students for the challenges of the professional world, the ORIE M.Eng. program asked this year's crop of new students to come to Ithaca a week before the beginning of classes.  They came for an intensive series of professional development sessions called MEng Connect, with the subtitle "Your Path to Professional Success Begins Here."

The program, designed by M.Eng. Director Dr. Kathryn Caggiano and Ithaca-based consultant Richard Gallagher, focuses on essential professional skills to augment the rigorous technical program the students will undertake for the ensuing two or three semesters.  It includes sessions on the American business and technology culture (designed to be valuable to U.S. and international students alike), communications, teamwork, selling ideas, writing, speaking, and presentation. There is even a session on business etiquette.  

Feedback from the more than 70 participants in the first edition of the program was very enthusiastic, with an average anonymously submitted rating of 4.24 on a scale of 5.   In addition to the content, students appreciated the opportunity to work with classmates prior to the formal beginning of the program.  "I got to meet and become friends with everyone very fast," was a typical comment. As a consequence of its reception, the program will be offered again next year, according to Caggiano.  

 Meng connect tower exercise
Belin Beyoglu from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Chong Wang from Nankai University, Wing-Ho Choi from Arizona State, ORIE grad Aayush Tapuriah  and Viral Malnika from D. J. Sanghvi College of Engineering attempt to build the highest tower.

An early exercise in the program involved using simple materials such as  construction paper and scotch tape to build a strong "world headquarters" tower. Students were able to immediately apply what they had just learned about personality types, leadership, and team issues in working together to solve this problem.  It was an "awesome building activity," said Rami Jawhar, an Electrical and Computer Engineering graduate of the University of Beirut, Lebanon.

For the initial building exercise, students with similar personality profiles were placed together.  The results corresponded to his expectations for teams with those profiles, Gallagher pointed out afterwards.  Subsequently project teams were set up that mixed personality types and backgrounds in order to show the benefits of diversity.  These teams then worked together on the culminating exercise in the program.  

 MEng connect team members with Peter Jackson
Professor Peter Jackson discusses project issues with Pourmehr Sarram from Purdue and Cornell grad Mark Fontana during an MEng Connect session.


The project teams worked during the week on a project of their own devising.  Each team's mission was to "develop a convincing proposal to raise money for a worthwhile cause."   Teams proposed new charities and developed proposals for funding, competing with each other for donation dollars. ORIE faculty advised the teams as they worked on the proposals.  "Getting input from faculty really aided us in putting our presentation together," said Charles Song, a University of Michigan Financial Mathematics graduate, who noted that "the team projects were most helpful in learning team dynamics." 


 Meng connect winning team
Dr. Caggiano presents prizes to the winning team members Mark Fontana, ORIE alum Kevin Bunn, Xueying Feng fron Nanyang Technological University, Pourmehr Sarram  and Chong Wang as Richard Gallagher looks on.

In the competition at the end of the week, teams presented their proposals to their peers in two competitive rounds.  The proposals  covered the rationale, activities and their implementation, challenges, and measurement of success for the charity.  The teams then used presentation skills developed during the week to get their ideas across and win support.  For the first round, in which teams were divided into two cohorts, each team was allocated (a fictitious) $100,000 to donate to the charities in their cohort.  The top two teams in each cohort then presented their proposals a second time to the entire class, which voted for the winner.

The winning team solicited contributions to a charity called Puppies for the Cure that loaned pets to cancer patients.  Other teams proposed charities such as GPS for the Blind, Stop the Mud Slide, and Homeless Got Talent.

 Financial Engineering Students in Wall Street
Financial Engineering students line up in front of the New York Stock Exchange during a visit to CFEM, a block south on Broad Street.  


Earlier, students in the Financial Engineering concentration spent a day at Cornell Financial Engineering Manhattan (CFEM) in New York City.  There they met CFEM Director Dr. Victoria Averbukh, visited Barclays Bank, participated in a resume workshop, and got a first taste of CFEM and Wall Street, where they will return for the third semester. 

"I loved the whole day," said Dongning Luo, an electrical engineer from Shanghai Jiao Tong, adding that "the professional atmosphere makes me excited and motivated."  Wing-ho Choi, a finance graduate of Arizona State University, said that "the resume workshop really helped me understand what kind of qualifications professionals are looking for and how to improve my chances of being invited to an interview."

That same day students in the other M.Eng. concentrations had a resume workshop in Ithaca, followed by a trip to the nearby Corning Museum of Glass, the most popular tourist destination between New York City and Niagara Falls.  Both trips were among the most popular components of the program. 

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