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TTU News

Published: Wed May 28, 2014

thumb JesseWelch-smBringing a new drug to market in the United States takes more than a decade and often billions of dollars.

A team of chemical engineering students at Tennessee Tech University came up with an idea to reduce that time and expense by designing a device to eliminate the need for human testing. A TTU business student developed a business plan for their invention.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who have worked in the industry and they’ve emphasized how often you need to talk to engineers. We don’t do enough of that in our classes,” said junior Sparta native Jesse Welch, who is studying international business and cultures, economics, finance and marketing. “The technical aspects come from the engineering students, but so much of this comes from the business side as well.”

The collaboration is part of a pilot program, putting together chemical engineering students and faculty with those from business.

The pilot program included a business plan competition partnering mostly junior business students with seniors from the College of Engineering, as well as a student each from the Colleges of Education and Agriculture and Human Ecology who pitched their own ideas.

The pilot program included a simulation, led by business faculty, with junior chemical engineering students and an informal elevator pitch competition.

“The students can build these tools but when it comes to transferring these ideas, they want to know how to do that but I can’t answer those questions,” said TTU chemical engineering assistant professor Jennifer Pascal. “Working with different disciplines is extremely important. My students said, ‘It’s almost like the business faculty are speaking a different language when they were judging us.’ For the students to get that experience is a good thing.”

The pilot is the outgrowth of a long-standing partnership between business and engineering faculty. A standard part of engineering education at TTU is that seniors have to design a solution to a modern problem, using all they have learned during their TTU education. In one approach used by the chemical engineering department, student teams create prototypes that are judged by faculty members from other disciplines.  

“They’re working with their students to get through the innovation of something new that they think has some value,” said Ken Wiant, professor and interim dean of TTU’s College of Business. “I think students can be innovative in a variety of ways. This is about bringing them together.”

The final recognition in the program was for an elevator pitch, where a student from the College of Agriculture and Human Ecology turned a talk from a former CFO of Saks Fifth Avenue into an opportunity for her to present her line of merchandise to him.

The winners or winning teams each got cash prizes for their efforts.

Faculty are already in talks to plan and expand the program next year. Ideally, they say they would pair a class involving writing business plans and forecasting with the senior engineering courses, but also expanding it to include other majors and programs across the university, including the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing and the College of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Though the professors involved say they do not necessarily expect to see businesses starting from this partnership immediately, there is no reason why they couldn’t as time goes on.

“This effort places students in the context of the type of problems they’re going to be experiencing in the real world,” said Robby Sanders, TTU chemical engineering assistant professor. “Having a business built around one of these ideas is going to happen. There’s no reason why a student or team of students from Tennessee Tech can’t have a viable business from one of these ideas.”

“Our students are too good and they work too hard.”

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