CSUN Students Win National Manufacturing Careers Contest

  • CSUN graduate student winners accept check

    California State University, Northridge graduate students James McCloskey and Lily Thiemens were recently awarded the first-place prize and $7,000 for The Miller Ingenuity Challenge, a national competition aimed at encouraging more individuals to pursue careers in the manufacturing industry. From left: Lily Thiemens, Steve Blue and James McCloskey. Photo by Nestor Garcia.

How do you attract the most creative minds to the manufacturing industry?

California State University, Northridge graduate students: James McCloskey, pursuing a master’s degree in the Department of Manufacturing Systems Engineering and Lily Thiemens, earning a master’s degree in English Literature, have the answer. The pair were recently awarded the first-place prize and $7,000 for The Miller Ingenuity Challenge, a national competition aimed at encouraging more individuals to pursue careers in the manufacturing industry.

“At Miller Ingenuity we know new ideas that can benefit our customers come from working together cross departmentally,” said Steve Blue, CEO and president of Miller Ingenuity. “Like these two students, the best outcome came when people with different expertise were able to collaborate and solve the challenge at hand. Imagine the possibilities for American manufacturing if we could use this same principle on a much larger scale.”

McCloskey, and Thiemens, who just so happen to be dating, submitted a seven-page written response and a video that addressed the question: “How might American manufacturers attract the best and brightest innovative minds to pursue careers in the manufacturing industry?” The three-tiered plan starts with introducing manufacturing to elementary students through the use of video and simulation games, then engaging them through after-school programs and mentorships in high school and the final tier focuses on recruiting the best and brightest from colleges and universities.

“I believe that manufacturing is going through a renaissance and we need the best and brightest minds to bring us to new places,” said McCloskey, who would like to use his knowledge and skills to manage teams of engineers so they can build products that make the world a better place.

Thiemens said she and McCloskey drew from their own life experiences to develop their presentation. She said both of them were involved in after-school programs and clubs that encouraged and supported their respective pursuits of their disciplines at an early age. They also have enjoyed playing video games and have found that as a way to engage young minds.

“The tiers, stages all made sense to us, so we just put it all together and incorporated the use of simulation games and technology to present manufacturing concepts,” said Thiemens, whose goal is to earn a doctorate and teach literature at a university.

The national contest, which received more than 30 submissions, was launched in celebration of the opening of Miller Ingenuity’s Creation Station, a Google-like think space in the middle of the factory. Under the leadership of Blue, Miller Ingenuity has undergone significant changes, which resulted in quadrupled total sales. Company officials said the construction and opening of Creation Station is the physical manifestation of the cultural change taking place. The contest, a first for the Minnesota-based rail manufacturing company, was seen as a way to share how it gained its success in order to strengthen manufacturing in Minnesota and throughout the U.S.

Blue said the award stems from his mission to save U.S. manufacturing from decades of outsourcing and shifting generational interest.

“We are delighted that the submission from James and Lily has been selected as the winning entry in the Miller Ingenuity Challenge competition,” said S. K. Ramesh, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “It is a testament to the quality of our programs as students from our college continue to shine in various national and international events.”

CSUN offers cutting-edge programs in engineering and computer science and is one of 150 universities across the country to pledge to help “fuel a renaissance” in American manufacturing as part of the White House Maker Faire Initiative launched in June 2014. CSUN is also taking a leadership role in the University Alliance Partnership to build strategic partnerships with universities around the country to strengthen advanced manufacturing.

The university, under the leadership of President Dianne F. Harrison, Provost Harry Hellenbrand, Dean Ramesh and Tseng College Dean Joyce Feucht-Haviar, is also part of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, an initiative launched last year by the U.S. Department of Commerce designed to revolutionize the way federal agencies leverage economic development funds. It encourages communities to develop comprehensive economic development strategies that will strengthen their competitive edge for attracting global manufacturing and supply chain investments.

CSUN is part of the Southern California effort, one of 12 communities selected by an interagency panel for the program out of 70 nationwide. The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership of the Southern California Manufacturing Community is focused on aerospace and associated industries in the supply chain. The partnership is led by the University of Southern California’s Center for Economic Development and includes local governments, businesses and educational institutions, including the five CSU campuses in the area.


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