By Matt McColl (‘09)
Francis Marion University launched its Industrial Engineering program in the spring of 2014.
Four years later it’s already paying dividends for the university and for local businesses.
The program’s first graduating class all were employed in the field and in the Pee Dee Region upon graduation — most with multiple offers — and future cadres are set to follow in their footsteps, thanks in large part to a fast-growing set of internship partnerships in the area.
For example, four Francis Marion University IE students were of the first class of interns at the Schaeffler Group, USA’s Cheraw, S.C. plant. Schaeffler, which makes auto parts, is one of several manufacturing concerns in the region who have eagerly partnered with the IE program at FMU.
At Schaeffler, the internships are part of a special Engineer Retention Collaboration program with FMU. The students offer the company some useful summer help, and a first look at a new crop of engineers. Schaeffler returns the favor with real world experience that helps bring classroom learning alive, and a foot in the door to a potential career.
FMU students Grae Fisher, Chris Souza, Amy Gunn and Thomas Benford were the first cohort of students in the Schaeffler program. Fisher, a junior from Cheraw, says working in his hometown beat all the work experiences he’d had before hands down. He also liked being part of something new.
“I like the idea that we’re the first to do try this,” Fisher says. “It makes me feel like I’m a part of something a little bit bigger.”
David Redfearn, Schaeffler’s Industrial Engineering Manager, was the pointman for the FMU students during their three-month summer experience in Cheraw. He was impressed and encouraged by their level of expertise.
“A very few weeks into the internship, they were able to work with our seasoned engineers and add value to our workshops and processes,” he says. “I’m excited about the collaboration and the future that we’ll have with Francis Marion. (There’s a lot of) turnover with engineers, just because we’ve had to hire from larger cities and from faraway places. We’re looking for homegrown talent.”
Schaeffler’s budding relationship with FMU has born other fruit as well. Olivia Wilkes, one FMU’s first IE grads, was hired to work at the Cheraw plant last summer.