Two components critical to innovation that are often taught and practiced separately were recently integrated in an introductory engineering design course that’s required for all first-year engineering and computer science students at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Dr. Phillip Mulligan, assistant teaching professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering department taught the engineering design portion of the class; during the third week of the course, however, the teaching was turned over to economics faculty, who introduced the concept of value-driven engineering design and economic integration.
The economics portion of the course also included a presentation by Ryan Senciboy, director of finance and accounting with Missouri Cobalt, a metal processing company that operates a mine in Fredericktown, Missouri. In addition to students enrolled in the class, Kummer Vanguard Scholars at S&T attended his lecture, which was second in the Path to Leadership series that launched in the spring.
Senciboy says there were a couple of reasons he jumped at the chance to speak directly to S&T students about the importance of connecting engineering innovation with finance. There’s his role at Missouri Cobalt, where he serves as a fiscal partner to engineers who are developing a facility that will convert recycled battery material and minerals the company mines into crystallized cobalt, nickel, lithium or copper for use in batteries Blue Cobalt will develop primarily for electric vehicles. Also, the company has hired several S&T students, as employees and as interns, and he considers them “the best and the brightest.”
Throughout his career, Senciboy says he’s seen some engineering projects that succeed beyond expectations and others that fail spectacularly based in large part on a single factor: engineering and finance not working together. One large publicly traded company he used as an example overspent a project by $100 million while also projecting earnings that were twice what they turned out to be – a catastrophic failure, as Senciboy describes it, that led to lots of leadership changes.
“You can be the best engineer in the world, but every company needs to be profitable,” he says.
His advice to students is simple.
“Regardless of whether you’re in engineering or finance, you need to understand the other side of the house,” he says. “Learn about engineering but be curious about finance. Pursue a certificate, take an elective or a minor in a financial economics discipline.”
Senciboy’s message about engineers and financial professionals learning to understand each other resonated with Andrew Schmoll, a first-year chemical engineering student from Columbia, Illinois. The lecture also motivated him to think more about what business-related subjects he may minor in, and, on a more philosophical level, to reconsider how he views engineering itself.
“I’m in my first semester, and my understanding of engineering is evolving,” he says. “Before, I thought it was just design. Now I see it as everything that goes into creating a product. The lecture broadened my horizon of what engineering can be and the possibilities behind it.”
Senciboy was invited to S&T by Dr. Melody Lo, the John and Ruth Steinmeyer Memorial Endowed Chair of Economics, who says the idea to integrate economics into an introductory engineering design course emerged from conversations she had with Dr. David Bayless, professor and department chair of mechanical and aerospace engineering. She says that she and Bayless both believe that understanding the economic and societal value of emerging technologies is essential for those who plan to advance into leadership. She encourages students to consider the financial economics and technology certificate S&T recently introduced for non-economics majors, which focuses on using economics modeling and analysis to inform financial decisions.
Lo says her interest in collaborating across academic departments and colleges stems from her belief that cross-disciplinary learning is the key to preparing students to become successful leaders.
“There is no end of examples showing that innovations are more likely to be both sustainable and transformational when the innovators can go beyond the technical aspect of an engineering project,” she says. “This opportunity to work with students in the engineering design course is an important first step in helping them develop an integrated, cross-disciplinary understanding of how economic factors affect decision-making throughout an engineering project. That’s an essential skill in today’s global marketplace.”
About Missouri University of Science and Technology
Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students located in Rolla, Missouri. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System, Missouri S&T offers over 100 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top public universities for salary impact, according to the Wall Street Journal. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu.