At Reutlingen University our engineering courses are designed to combine both academic theory and practical experience. One of the highlights of the bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering is the project module completed in the sixth semester, which sees our budding engineers working on real-life industry design projects and presenting their findings to industry representatives. Last semester, we teamed up with the development department at MANN+HUMMEL for a second time.
As a former MANN+HUMMEL employee, I know the company and staff from the development department well, so this last project was a little like returning home for me! The partnership ran very smoothly, which made the experience of working through the project with our students all the more straightforward and enjoyable for us teaching staff.
The project module is an innovative training format, first introduced at Reutlingen University by my colleague Prof. Paul Wyndorps more than ten years ago. The aim is to ensure our students to embark on their future careers in the best possible position, by giving them practical hands-on training in current engineering topics, something we can only achieve by working directly with industry partners. It is impossible to simulate the real challenges of working in industry at the university; what we need is a real-life project.
In preparation for the project module, we seek out an industry partner, in this case MANN+HUMMEL, with a suitable project for our 40 students to work on for a whole semester. The students are split into teams of four and spend ten weeks developing a solution for their assignment. As in a real tender situation, the teams then compete against one another to win the assignment from the industry representatives. The project is divided into four phases and during each phase one team representative must present the interim results to the client. By the end of the module, each student has therefore heard 39 talks on the same topic, so they should know exactly what makes a good presentation.
My former colleagues from MANN+HUMMEL really put the students to task on the presentation days, deliberately playing to the utmost the part of the critical client. After all, it’s vital that our students receive proper feedback, rather than being lulled into a false sense of security. That’s the only way that they will develop the skills they need for their future careers. Many of my students admitted to me later that they didn’t always enjoy the project module, but that in hindsight they feel it was the most valuable part of their whole degree.
We believe the project module offers many benefits: Our students have the chance to take part in a real-life project. They are able to apply many of the skills developed earlier in the course and see the development process through from start to finish. They also get to see the results of their own work put into practice and have the opportunity to practise their professional client-facing skills. Since the projects are genuine assignments, the students are extra motivated, which in the past has meant the client benefits from high quality results that they can put to direct use. Moreover, the students establish contacts within companies such as MANN+HUMMEL, which could be useful for their dissertation or even open up job opportunities later on.