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UW students get taste of real-world learning

February 14, 2023 By Mike Klein

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While learning in the classroom and lab is the foundation of a University of Wisconsin­–Madison education, many students also get invaluable experience outside the classroom before graduating.

Through capstone courses, internships and partnerships with employers, students have worked on projects all over the state and nation, from a factory floor to the halls of Wisconsin’s state capitol to wildfire-prone wilderness. Frequently these experiences lead to jobs for the students.

“I feel like that’s the best way to learn: getting that actual, tangible experience,” says industrial engineering students Josie Beres, who worked on a project at GE HealthCare. “Because, yes, you can learn all the concepts in school, but actually being able to apply them and see them in action in the manufacturing line or just a company in general was a great experience.”

Here are some examples:

Which credit card is best?

In the Computer Science Department’s capstone course, students work on projects for companies ranging from Epic to Associated Bank of Madison, with the help of mentors from the companies. In the fall 2022 semester, one team built a rewards optimizer program for Capital One, to guide customers through prompts seeking their preferences on annual fees, cash back, miles and more to figure out which credit card best fits their needs. At the final presentation, the team successfully took the audience through a live demonstration of their work.

Two women in surgical masks and business casual attire look at a monitor next to a bench-top piece of lab equipment shaped like a cooler. Three people in similar attire stand in the background. They are in an industrial setting. The room appears to be filled with equipment.

The graduating seniors in the capstone course plotted a path forward after finding unexpected results while looking at their client’s processes.

Reducing manufacturing configurations

As part of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering’s capstone design course, four industrial engineering students came up with recommendations that helped GE HealthCare realize it could reduce the number of configurations it offered customers for its anesthesia delivery systems, thus saving costs. Just 11 generic configurations could cover 70 percent of customer demand, they found.

An aerial view of the Wisconsin State Capitol on a sunny day

Students from the La Follette School often find internships or jobs in state government in the Wisconsin state capitol. Photo: Bryce Richter

Helping make state government go

Evan Steck, a student in the La Follette School’s Accelerated Program, began working in the Wisconsin Governor’s Office as an intern during his junior year at UW–Madison. Now he serves as a senior appointments coordinator, helping the appointments director fill vacancies across more than 200 statewide boards and commissions. Combining this experience with his graduate coursework, he already is making an impact on policymaking in Wisconsin.  Fellow graduate student Michael Luckey also works there, as chief of staff for a Wisconsin state senator.

Ford Freyberg appears small in the lower righthand corner of the photo as he stands in front of the Rocky Mountain range on an autumn day. The forest in the foreground is changing from green to gold.

Ford Freyberg in the mountains near Crested Butte, Colarado. Photo by Natalie Bowman

Looking at wildfire risk in the West

Ford Freyberg graduated in August from the Nelson Institute’s environmental observation and informatics graduate program, after spending his last semester doing some serious field work. His final EOI summer term led him to a NASA earth science internship in Pocatello, Idaho, where he worked on a project using geospatial research to assess wildfire risk in Idaho. The team conducted research, then downloaded, transformed, and incorporated the information into a model that predicts drought-intensified wildfires.

Working on health-care enrollment

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences students spend internships at a variety of employers. For instance, life sciences communication senior Jackson Krull interned for UnitedHealth Care and he learned about processes, enrollments, and determining optional plans/products for consumers.

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