The Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams (QUEST) Honors Program at the University of Maryland celebrated 25 years of continuous improvement with a spectacular anniversary gala on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, at The Hotel, the new luxury hotel and conference center at UMD. Attendees included more than 420 current students, alumni, faculty and staff, along with their families and friends.
Undergraduate students from the Robert H. Smith School of Business, A. James Clark School of Engineering and the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences (CMNS) are eligible to apply for QUEST. Deans from each school welcomed attendees to the celebration: Alex Triantis, dean of the Smith School; Darryll J. Pines, dean of the Clark School; and Jerry Wilkinson, interim dean of CMNS. The emcee for the event was Ricky Wilson ’02 (Cohort 6), chair of QUEST’s alumni board.
In the University of Maryland community when you hear “QUEST,” you immediately have visions of the best and brightest Terps working in cross-disciplinary teams with top companies on innovative consulting projects using Six Sigma techniques, a set of management procedures intended to improve business processes by greatly reducing the probability that an error or defect will occur. Pines called QUEST the most popular program on campus, saying, “Everyone wants to be a QUEST student, but not everyone can be a QUEST student.”
“Students enter QUEST with many great qualities – ambition, intelligence, a hard work ethic, and a strong team orientation – but leave with an ability to harness these qualities so they may execute on their vision and succeed,” said Joe Bailey, associate research professor at the Smith School and the current executive director of QUEST. “As a faculty member, I’m always thankful when a class is comprised of the best and brightest. That is always the case with a class of QUEST students. … I am so proud of all the QUEST students I have taught over the years. Congratulations on 25 years!”
QUEST launched at UMD in 1992 as the IBM-TQ program with $1 million in funding from IBM as part of their Total Quality Management (TQM) initiative. Judy Olian, who is currently dean and John E. Anderson Professor of Management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, was the first director of the program. “As we developed ideas for the program, we forged new ties between the schools of business and engineering that did not previously exist, developed courses that enabled systems thinking among the students, and created team-based and case experiences that traced connections among product pricing, marketing, process engineering and measurement, and management thinking. That became the seed for what was then called the IBM-TQ program, later becoming QUEST,” said Olian in the QUEST 25th Anniversary commemorative book.
Now there are more than 1,200 QUEST alumni who describe the program as transformative, life-changing, inspiring, thought-leading, collaborative, irreplaceable, rewarding, immersive, empowering, unrivaled, dynamic and amazing.
“QUEST had a tremendous impact and impression on my career,” said Fox Troilo ’04 (Cohort 9), who currently works for Hanover Research as a senior research advisor for higher education. “It was through the program that I first learned about things like team dynamics, efficiency and optimization. My participation in the program also enhanced my understanding of how valuable higher education can be for individuals. Looking back, it was clearly QUEST that put me on the trajectory bringing me to my current role – providing research support to institutions of higher education. I achieve this by using many of the methods and strategies first presented to me in QUEST all those years ago.”
Three QUEST alumni were featured speakers at the event: Debbie Feinberg ’96 (Cohort 1), CFO of financial firm PFF, LLC; Vlad Tchompalov ’09 (Cohort 14), an independent designer; and Addrenia Smith ’14 (Cohort 18), a fixed income associate at Morgan Stanley. Current student Rachit Agarwal ’20, computer science major (Cohort 30), closed out the event with his thoughts on the current QUEST experience.
"I think the best part about QUEST is that its curriculum is equally as strong as its community," said Manas Kulkarni '13 (Cohort 18), a strategic sales representative at Percolate who traveled from New York City to attend the anniversary gala. "It prepared me for the reality of multiple skill sets in a workplace and also gave me a close set of peers with whom I'm still in touch and still ask for advice. Though I don't use fishbone diagrams in my day-to-day, my success (and paycheck, frankly) relies on my ability to identify team strengths and listen to the Voice of the Customer -- I have QUEST to thank for both."
Six alumni received recognition in the inaugural QUEST alumni awards, which were presented at the anniversary gala by current and former QUEST staff:
- Innovative Professional Achievement Award: Jason Gates (Cohort 16)
- Outstanding Corporate Connector Award: Steve Kutchi (Cohort 1)
- Outstanding Service Award: Danny Laurence (Cohort 19), Bryan Towns (Cohort 7), Ricky Wilson (Cohort 6)
- Outstanding Young Alumna: Linda Rassenti (Cohort 17)
The event also recognized the corporate partners that provide critical support for the QUEST program with a special thanks for corporate visionaries: IBM, Orbital ATK and Leidos; corporate innovator: Lockheed Martin; and corporate catalysts: dlhBOWLES, BD, PwC, Tulkoff Food Products and Unilever.
The final round of the IBM Design Challenge was held right before the anniversary gala. Seven teams with 32 students participated in a four-week challenge to design a product or service around the theme, “The World is Flat.” Read this related story with highlights from the IBM Design Challenge.
Learn more about QUEST at www.rhsmith.umd.edu/QUEST.
- Alissa Arford, Office of Marketing Communications
Related news: QUEST Team Wins IBM Design Challenge