Thrust Consulting, an undergraduate team of engineering and business students, won the Most Outstanding Capstone award at the Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams (QUEST) Conference on May 3, 2018, at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. The team helped its client, GE subsidiary Middle River Aircraft Systems, boost production efficiency at its facilities in Middle River, Md. Smith School marketing student Philip Peker '18 provides the following summary of the conference:
It’s the first week of May. Enter: bluer skies, sunnier days, and the sweetness of summer. Not only is it a time for new beginnings, but for conclusions and celebrations of what has come to pass. On the unforgivingly hot day that was Thursday, May 3, 2018, one of the most selective and prestigious academic programs at the University of Maryland hosted its biannual QUEST Conference.
QUEST is a multidisciplinary hands-on honors program in which students participate in a challenging course of study that focuses on quality management, process improvement and systems design. It brings together STEM and business students to work on semester-long, client-facing projects, ultimately giving the students the ability to present concrete recommendations to multimillion-dollar companies.
The spring 2018 conference was hosted the graduating Cohort 27. Students celebrated alongside family members, UMD faculty and staff, corporate partners and alumni. It was a fireworks evening with great food, impressive presentations and a universal celebration of hard work and scholarship.
While many undergraduate university projects claim to mimic how real-world, professional projects work, QUEST truly walks the walk. Each team, guided by a faculty advisor and one or two project champions, is paired up with a company such as Orbital ATK, Lockheed Martin or GE, and asked to solve an organizational problem. Applying rules of lean six sigma, logistics strategy, flow optimization, and many other enhancement methodologies, the teams work as consultants for these companies throughout the 13-week semester.
For example, Team Operation Hawkeye (Jacob King, Brandon Wallerson, Silvia Caceras, Akshay Guthal and Braedan Callis) worked as consultants for Northrop Grumman to improve machine utilization within their Baltimore–Washington International Airport location. As it stands, much of the maintenance that happens on Northrop Grumman’s sensors and radar machines happens reactively, which decreases efficiency, and so the team wanted to see if there was a way to create a preventative maintenance system instead.
“We created a web-based database application that would store and analyze all maintenance and work order information, and update it in real time, so that there was a centralized system that could be used to streamline maintenance and schedule fixes without adding delay time and slowing down the overall operation,” Wallerson said. “Operation Hawkeye” ended up winning the “Best Poster” prize, as voted on by their peers.
After more casual poster presentations and a networking reception, the evening segued into the final presentations given on stage by the teams in front of a critical, yet constantly engaged audience. It was an impressive sight to see undergraduate students present with the class, professionalism and skill of seasoned consultants. Those sleepless nights and countless hours of rehearsing paid off handsomely.
One team in particular, Thrust Consulting (Brian Freeman, Mingkai Xu, Conrad Hong and Drew Hamroff), wowed the audience and clients in presenting their technical analysis, creative problem solving and holistic approach to “optimizing part flow management to help scale to an increased production schedule” for their client, Middle River Aircraft Systems, a GE subsidiary.
“The company has a complex culture and so one of the biggest challenges was coming up with recommendations that would fulfill the desires of all the stakeholders,” Freeman said. “Through stakeholder interviews and a deep-dive company analysis, we realized how to navigate this problem and reach a decision framework that satisfied everyone’s needs in some way.”
Through both quantitative and qualitative due diligence, Thrust Consulting went on to win Most Outstanding Capstone, as voted by QUEST alumni.
The conference is a chance for the teams to present their project findings not only to their clients, but to other companies and the entire QUEST community as well. Some may say it’s a chance to brag, but in reality, it is a chance for some of the most talented students on campus to show what happens when their skills are put to the test.
“Since joining the program, I’ve seen with my own eyes how talented and driven these students are to do their best work,” said Christina Elson, co-teacher for the capstone course, BMGT490H, and managing director of the Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets. “While these presentations may seem like formalities, the journey to getting here, the day-to-day work that these students do has been truly incredible and is what keeps me excited for the future of this program.”
Smith School professor Joseph Bailey, executive director of QUEST and co-teacher for BMGT490H, said the goal of the program is to build students’ self-esteem, so they can go on and accomplish great things.
“Frankly, these projects are oftentimes beyond the reach of most undergraduate students anywhere, and to have a system like QUEST in place that challenges and engages students, day in and day out, is unique,” he said. “That sense of accomplishment and success that they get throughout this program should encourage them to keep reaching higher in their professional lives.”