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Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering

Alumni host 'Skill Xcelerator' Summit, invite further engagement and development

How do you become creative or adaptable? How do you become good at problem solving or interpersonal communication?

As an area manager for ExxonMobil, 2007 IMSE graduate Bryce Huschka frequently looks for these intangible qualities when interviewing job candidates.

On Sept. 14, Huschka—along with his brother, Andrew (B.S./M.S.I.E. 2011), and Chris Althoff (B.S.I.E. 2000 and M.B.A. 2005)—demystified the process of attaining professional skills at the “Skill Xcelerator” Summit. Held for students in the introduction to industrial engineering class, the event launched a major educational initiative for the IMSE department.

“We want to bring skills to life like no institution before us,” Huschka said.

"The IMSE faculty have always given freely of their time above and beyond the classroom to help our students succeed. The IMSE Skill Xcelerator will take our efforts to help prepare students for lifelong career success to a whole new level," said Brad Kramer, IMSE department head.

For several years, the department has sought ways to reshape education and better help students find their identity and mission among the many career paths available to IE graduates. Huschka played a large role in championing the cause among alumni and turning ideas into action. 

The Huschkas and Althoff, with significant input from the IMSE Advisory Council and Professional Academy, focused their efforts on skills, which has become a major buzzword in industry as companies adapt to the changes technology brings to the workplace.

“We tried to search around for an easy way to describe how to acquire skills, and it didn’t really exist,” Huschka explained at the summit. “So we said, let’s take ourselves to that defining moment when you walk in [to a job interview] with a resume, and go backwards. What could we have done differently so students actually have examples that speak to adaptability, creativity, problem solving?”

The Student as a Start-Up

The Skill Xcelerator concept they developed parallels a student’s career to that of a start-up business. It is based upon a Silicon Valley start-up accelerator program that gave rise to companies such as Airbnb and Dropbox, as well as the American Association of Engineering Societies Engineering Competency Model.

In essence, students, whose careers are their own startup business, work to define their career “mission statement” and develop corresponding technical and professional skills that they can offer to “investors”—potential employers— upon graduation. Along the way, they’ll have the support of their “board of directors,” which includes faculty, peers, alumni mentors and other personal influencers.

Core components of the Skill Xcelerator framework include:

  • Identifying Skill Rich Opportunities, such as internships, undergraduate research or extracurricular involvement—places and experiences with high skill-building potential.
  • Demonstrating “Skill Cred,” or a resume-worthy instance of a skill. 
  • Following a skill progression of learning, practicing, applying skills toward a purpose and making an impact.

“What excites me most about the Skill Xcelerator is the huge amount of potential to promote student growth,” Zach Stanley, an IMSE senior said. “The K-State IE program already does a great job of preparing students for real-world problems and projects; however, with the Skill Xcelerator we’re finally able to take that next step to help students become even more prepared for the in-demand jobs of the present as well as the future.”

Filling in the Framework

For Huschka, excitement comes from the tangential ideas arising from students, faculty and alumni. “We have framed the house, and now we have the fun of designing and building out the rooms,” Huschka said.

A team of twelve student founders has been working on the Xcelerator since this summer. Stanley is part of the program development group responsible for shaping the Xcelerator framework into an actionable program within IMSE.

“We’ll hopefully have more to share about the interesting ideas we’re working on in the next few months, and those ideas will translate into actions in the spring semester as this program gets closer to a full-scale implementation for the department,” he said.

Abigail Hilliard, a senior in the concurrent bachelor’s/master’s program, is leading the business development team, which is responsible for engaging key stakeholder groups—students, faculty, alumni and industry.

“I’ve been wanting to leave a mark on the department as best I can,” Hilliard said. As a senior, Hilliard may not see the Xcelerator reach its full potential while she’s still at K-State. “Coming back in a few years, seeing what the program has become, and just knowing that I was on the founders’ team for that would be enough for me.”

Within the department, Todd Easton's introduction to industrial engineering class is already incorporating pieces of the Xcelerator. Throughout the semester, students will model the process of skill progression, focusing on the skill of professional communication. 

As a final project, they will present “Mock IPOs,” in which they will pitch their career start-up idea to IMSE alumni. Just as businesses need to gather feedback from their customer markets, providing feedback to students from industry representatives is vital to the Skill Xcelerator’s mission.

The presentations will take place on the afternoon of Dec. 7. Huschka encourages interested alumni to participate as evaluators. Anyone interested can contact Brad Kramer at bradleyk@ksu.edu or 785-532-5606 for further information.

Looking Ahead

Future opportunities for alumni involvement will arise as the program develops.“Our focus now is on manufacturing more skill-rich opportunities and providing a feedback loop for students,” Huschka said.

One way they intend to manufacture opportunities is through financial support. The Huschkas, along with their brother, Kyle Huscka (B.S./M.S.I.E. 2009), and the support of ExxonMobil's generous education matching program, have established an “Education Venture Fund,” which now has almost $180,000, to support projects or programs that can further the Skill Xcelerator’s mission.

If you have any ideas of programs, projects or other ways to implement the Skill Xcelerator and create enriching opportunities for IMSE students, we want to hear them! Contact Brad Kramer, IMSE department head, if you’re interested in contributing. Email: bradleyk@ksu.edu. Phone: 785-532-5606

Get Involved

The Skill Xcelerator team is looking for alumni volunteers to evaluate students’ “Mock IPO” presentations on Dec. 7. Contact Brad Kramer, IMSE department head, for additional information.

Bradleyk@ksu.edu
785-532-5606

Join the SkillX Conversation

What skills do you or your company value? How have you developed your skills as an IE professional?

Share your expertise and connect with students and alumni on the K-State IMSE Skill Xcelerator LinkedIn group.