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Brilliant Bracelets: Engaging Girls in STEM

Engaging girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the public forum. According to a report compiled by the National Girls Collaborative Project, girls’ participation and performance in science and math are improving over time but boys still perform better on average and only 15% of women entering college choose a Science or Engineering field versus nearly 30% of men. Perhaps even more discouraging, once women choose a STEM field, they are less likely to stick around than their male counterparts. An article published earlier this year in the Washington Post shared a Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) report that shows that women working in science and high-tech fields are 45% more likely to leave the industry within one year compared to their male counterparts.

A literature review compiled by the Girls RISE National Museum Network suggests that fostering a “science identity,” or the idea of seeing one’s self as affiliated with science and understanding the world the way a scientist does, is necessary to motivate girls to pursue STEM coursework and careers. The research also shows that it is important to start early in developing science identity, and that the best informal STEM programs to increase school-aged girls’ interest in science are hands-on, student-centered, collaborative, and low-pressure.

The Twin Cities IIE professional chapter is doing their part by hosting STEM outreach focused on getting girls excited about industrial engineering. Chapter 38 members volunteer at the IIE-hosted “Brilliant Bracelets experiment” which is designed to share traditional IE topics like brainstorming, layout design, standard work, and line balancing through a fun and colorful bracelet assembly line activity. The experiment was designed by former and current board members Christy Strong and Jenna Weiland, and has been staged at least twice annually over the past six years in partnership with the local SWE chapter, which organizes outreach events for Girl Scouts and local underprivileged student groups.

Brilliant Bracelets

The  activity begins by introducing the basics of industrial engineering through a short presentation on the types of jobs an IE can perform in industry, followed by a fun, hands-on activity where each table of participants becomes a team working in a bracelet “factory” producing Brilliant Bracelets for picky customers that demand lots of bracelets with strict quality requirements. After a first round where the groups are frustrated by a poor factory layout, confusing raw materials, and suboptimal work instructions, the girls work in teams to develop ideas for improvement and implement their envisioned future state in order to produce bracelets more quickly and with higher quality. At the end of the experiment, they become the true end customers when each student receives her own bracelet to take home to keep.

Feedback from volunteer coordinators staged at the exits of the last few events indicates that the Brilliant Bracelets activity is a huge hit with participants. One coordinator passed on an especially encouraging message after a recent event:

“I was polling girls as they were exiting and there were several enthusiastic accounts of the bracelet activity and girls interested in becoming industrial engineers! You really made an impact!”

If you are a continuous improvement professional in the Twin Cities and you would like more information on how to get involved, please contact Britta Rowan ( to be notified the next time there is an opportunity to volunteer at a Brilliant Bracelets event. Planning is currently underway for our second event in 2014, which is tentatively scheduled for early October!

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Personal IT Security and Lessons from Life

We increasingly live our lives through our devices, be it PCs or PDAs. While the balance between convenience and IT security is a personal decision, IT security creates massive headaches when you’ve died – and your family has to figure out how to get to the data you may sought to protect. What could you do personally to maintain personal IT security and make things easier for your family? And what could (and should) relatives do when you die to clean up your digital life?

While IT security policies say never, ever write down your passwords, write down your PERSONAL passwords and user IDs so that family members can log in to accounts to pay bills electronically, review statements and access information. And make sure they know where this password file is, and then update it as often as you update your passwords.

Does your account have security questions? The answers to those questions may be obvious to you, but they may not be obvious to your family. Include the answers to security questions in your password information file.

Do not donate someone’s computer until verifying that you have removed all personal files from the PC, all financial software, all browser history and any other information that could be used to impersonate someone online. The last thing you need is someone picking up a cheap donor PC, opening the browser and having access to Grandma’s bank account because the user ID and password were saved to the device. In fact, after you’ve saved all the financial files, transferred all the photos and are otherwise done with the PC, go ahead and install one of the light Linux operating systems on it to wipe everything out and THEN donate the PC to charity.

If you have backups of tax filings or financial software files, ensure that this information is recorded somewhere that isn’t encrypted, locked in a safety deposit box no one can access until the will is probated or otherwise inaccessible. For example, have a USB drive with the Quicken backups in the “love drawer” where all important legal documents like wills and deeds are kept.

However, you should encrypt the USB drive that holds your financial files and personal documents so they can’t be accessed by someone you don’t want to have access to them. You don’t want a maid or caregiver being able to take a thumb drive with Mom’s tax returns and drain all the accounts.

Where applicable and practical, update the person’s social networking profile to “deceased”, “unavailable” or whatever option is appropriate. Facebook actually has the option to set up a memorial page if you don’t just want to close the account. The Wall Street Journal warns that logging onto the site as someone who has died violates the terms of service. If you do log in as that person, for the love of that person or a higher power, don’t go snooping through prior message history or post content as that person for the sake of a prank. (No one in my family actually did this.)

Start closing down online accounts to minimize the risk of theft and fraud. If the person’s Amazon account is shut down, no one can hack in and order two big screen TVs from it. Notify Blizzard Entertainment or other gaming sites that the person is dead so they won’t continue billing the credit card.

You may want to wait on shutting down the individual’s email accounts, due to how many important notices some people receive via email. Collecting the mail for three months looking for account statements to find out where someone has an account doesn’t cut it if someone receives most or all account statements online or via email. However, it may be beneficial to set up the equivalent to an “out of office” message to let those sending messages to learn that the person is deceased.

LifeHacker recommends freezing the credit reports of anyone who has died. Do this with all three credit reporting bureaus.

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Interview with the 2014 winner of IIE’s Undergraduate Student Technical Paper Competition

From IIE staff reports

This blog includes an interview with Patrick Gathof from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, winner of the IIE Undergraduate Student Technical Paper Competition. He was recognized at the IIE Annual Conference & Expo 2014 for his paper, “Supermarket Redesign: Demand-driven Inventory Planning.”

IIE: Tell me about your winning paper and its research focus.
Gathof: The paper was created from my senior design project that I worked on with fellow classmates Matthew Waech and Jonathan Paulino. Here is the paper abstract:

This senior design project report examines the use of a forecasting model to predict customer demand, leading to informed inventory planning decisions.

The goal of the project was to develop a forecasting model to allow Benz Oil to better predict customer demand, as well as use the forecasted demand to develop inventory planning strategies. An additional goal of the project was to reorganize the raw materials in the facility to minimize travel distance and decrease the non-value-added time for the employees.

The project team developed a forecasting model in Excel that projects customer demand three months into the future. With the use of the model, the team analyzed three potential inventory planning strategies: Economic Order Quantity (EOQ), Kanban, and Safety Stock. The implementation of the EOQ strategy would decrease annual inventory costs by $1,051,739 and would yield a 1-year return on investment (ROI) of 277%.

The team used ABC, From-To, and Spaghetti Diagram analyses to determine the locations for raw materials that would decrease annual walking distance by 89.4 miles for the employees. This equates to an annual net savings of $133 with a 1-year ROI of 24%.

The team also developed a map of the raw materials that could be used by Benz Oil to eliminate the need to memorize the various locations. The implementation of the map would yield a net annual savings of $920 due to a decrease in training time, which would yield a 1-year ROI of 160%.

Who or what guided you to this paper topic?
For our senior design project, our advisors gave all of the students a list of companies and each of their respective projects.  Benz Oil was the only project that seemed open ended.  I was not excited about the other projects that had a narrow focus or those which seemed to already have the project figured out so-to-speak.  Benz Oil said:  our company has a variety of low hanging fruit within the facility, we would like a team to come in, find that low-hanging fruit, and make improvements that they deem as necessary or important.

The company provided the team with feedback regarding which of the several areas of improvement presented would be of most interest to their employees.  After this feedback was received from the client, the team presented this feedback to their advisors, and it was suggested that the team use this project as an opportunity to try and pitch a brand new idea to the client. With this in mind, all of the issues were taken into consideration and prioritized by using a weighted factors table which included factors such as client interest, client impact, as well as team member knowledge of the problem. This weighted analysis was used to assist the team in determining the areas of improvement to be addressed for this senior design project.

Using the results of the weighted factors table, the team narrowed the scope such that it would provide an optimal effect on the company at this current time. The team’s focus turned to the issues regarding the locations and organization of both the raw materials and the finished goods. Along with the focus on the location of materials, the team also attended to the outdated documentation of the facility layout; this combination allowed for improved control of the storage of the materials throughout the Benz Oil facility. Additionally, the team took the advisors’ advice and moved forward with developing a formal forecasting model for customer demand and creating stock levels for the finished goods.

Is this your first research paper to be published or recognized?
Yes it is.  I have of course done multiple projects and papers for other organizations, classes, and projects, but nothing to this extent.

How do you feel working on this research paper prepare you for your future career in industrial engineering? What lessons did you learn in respect to how you went about your fact-finding and writing?
Working on this research paper will help prepare me for working with unknown clients, and working the challenges of different cultures and mindsets that various groups can bring.  One of the hardest parts of the project was trying to convince the client to do something that they really did not want to do.  It was exciting to show the true monetary value of executing such deliverables.

Outside of receiving your award, what did you enjoy most about the IIE Annual Conference in Montreal?
I truly enjoyed participating in the Industrial Advisory Board Track, in Applied Solutions.  It was fun to listen to the various problems people have been facing and also hearing about how they came to a solution.  I enjoyed getting resume and interview tips from professionals, and I enjoyed connecting with professionals from all over the world.  This was truly an invaluable experience.

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Their Problems Should Be Our Problems

By Tamara Wilhite
An IE in IT

The book “How to Become a Rainmaker” is geared toward salespeople but applies to businesspeople and businesses as a whole. The book says that customers buy for only two reasons: to feel good or to solve a problem.  IT teams too often forget that fact.

Software rarely helps people feel good, unless it is a game. In that regard, games like Candy Crush manage to make a lot of money and many people happy. For everyone else in IT, software changes must solve a problem to be worthwhile. The problem many IT managers, programmers and developers face is aligning their solutions with the customers problems.

Before planning any software changes, upgrades, updates or whatever term you’d like to apply to the process of altering your application, ensure that the answer to at least one of these questions is a resounding “Yes!” before you go forward.

1. Does this change solve a user problem?

While reviewing the facts, verify that the problem it fixes applies to enough people that making one customer happy doesn’t annoy many others with the downtime or lost productivity of installing a new version.

2. Does it fix something we ourselves broke?

These software changes should take priority, in order to restore the company’s reputation.

3. Have we verified that this update or change is what the customers want?

Too many software changes are implemented because someone in engineering or IT considers it cool, cutting edge or the next big thing. However, it may not be what the customers want.

4. Does this change or improve an attribute customers consider critical?

A software change to improve IT security doesn’t need customer approval – we already know that no one wants to lose their credit card information or have personal information leaked.
Software changes that improve system uptime can be assumed to meet customer needs if reliability and uptime are critical to the customer base.
Software changes to stay in compliance with ISO, CMMI or another standards organization standard that customers want or need to achieve are worthwhile.

5. Have we verified that our change isn’t going to create problems?

There is a joke that all that matters in real estate is: location, location, location. In IT, we need to have the adage “test it, test it, test it”. All software changes need to be thoroughly tested for all environments and operating conditions, user types and transactions. Verify that the new functionality works – and that it doesn’t break anything else. And never remove functionality in order to add new features without verifying with the customers that they don’t need the old functions. After all, it was there for a reason.


In IT, it is essential that the problems we choose to solve are the ones that matter most to our customers, not the system administrators or techies that dominate the software development group. Focus on what matters to the end users, not the performance metrics or high tech projects that look best on someone’s resume.