This academic year, all entering School of Engineering students are required to take Engineering Economics, a 3-credit semester-long course taught by industrial and systems engineering (ISE) assistant teaching professor Elin Wicks.
For Wicks, the course is essential preparation for future success. “I want to give my students the ability and confidence to learn, adapt, and contribute when they get into the workforce,” she said.
“Teaching professors like Elin Wicks, who is focused on teaching and not research, bring value to a School of Engineering education by helping to fulfill our mission of providing our students with a top-quality, relevant education,” said School of Engineering dean Tom Farris.
Wicks, who joined the ISE faculty last year, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering from Rutgers, and her doctoral degree from Virginia Tech. A contributing co-author of the popular textbook, Engineering Economy, Wicks taught at the University of Missouri before retiring to raise a family.
“I’m both an old teacher and a new teacher,” said Wicks, who teaches three sections of the course each semester, as well as a summer section. “I’m in a continuous improvement phase and hopefully always will be.”
Class enrollment has doubled from 220 to 440 students since last year. In two weekly 80-minute lectures, Wicks’ students learn to apply principles of engineering economics to evaluate the economic merits and consequences, as well as profitability measures, of engineering solutions.
“I tell students they can design the most fantastic thing in the world, but if it doesn’t make money for the company they work for, and if they can’t show the financial benefits of what they’re doing, their company won’t stay in business,” Wicks explained. “They’ll need to evaluate the economic consequences of what they’re doing. It’s a tool they need – both in business and in life.”
Sophomore Kimberlee Sibilia agrees. “This class puts you in a position you could find yourself in in the future. You not only have to make decisions as if you were a project manager, but you have to back them up,” she noted. While Sibilia took the course last spring, as a course learning assistant, she is currently helping Wicks facilitate classroom activities and mentor students.
Fellow learning assistant and senior Omer Yucel also found the course tremendously helpful. “My biggest takeaway was learning the time value of money, and how an engineer should work with money,” he said. “This is an important course because engineers with money management skills will be viewed as more valuable to companies.”
Wicks hopes lessons learned will extend beyond the classroom and workplace. “One of the things I love about the course is that it also teaches them about personal finance applications – such as how to measure the time value of money for the loan value of a car – that are relevant to their lives,” Wicks said. “Unless they are independently wealthy, they can’t get around the personal benefits of this course.”
Working in teams, students draw on engineering, science and math principles to assess the viability of sophisticated engineering solutions. “The course encourages students to cross boundaries between departments,” said Wicks. “After all, they’ll have to be able to work with other people. At some point, a good engineer has to become a manager and apply the same skills it takes to develop machines to managing a product line or even a company.”