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Management Students Partner With Local Businesses

SOCORRO, N.M. December 8, 2009 – The Management Department at New Mexico Tech and the national laboratories are partnering on a new project to pair management and engineering students with local small businesses.

Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories are providing funding through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program so that students can assess the technology needs of small business firms and provide input for solving specific problems.  These projects will hopefully produce an economic impact in their local communities.

Divided into two teams, the senior level students are working with Animal Haven, a Socorro veterinary clinic, and Intor Inc., a thin-film optics manufacturer, also in Socorro. Dr. Peter Anselmo, Management Department chair, said these partnerships should be the first of many projects under this program that will showcase the capabilities of Tech students.

Management students present their semester's research at Intor on Tuesday, Dec. 8. From left are instructor Frank Reinow, Gavin Torres, Natalie Earthman, Intor owner Stan Bryn, Byron Whitehorse and Cody Winclechter.

“Tech provides a uniquely rigorous and stimulating student environment,” Anselmo said. “Our unique management of Technology program, where students gain engineering knowledge that complements their management training, gives our students the unique skill set necessary to succeed in a commercial context that is defined by technology.”

Instructor Frank Reinow said each project will challenge the students to devise a technology and marketing plan to address the needs of each business.

“The labs are interested in working with universities,” Reinow said. “The purpose is to reach out and work with local small businesses and help them develop.”

The projects are part of Reinow’s course Management 462: Systems Risk and Decision Analysis. The partnerships give students practical experience in a professional environment and exposure to situations that require application of the concepts learned in management courses.

The Intor project is funded by Sandia labs. The project team is Natalie Earthman, Byron Whitehorse, Cody Winclechter and Gavin Torres. Their challenge is twofold: first, they will assess the company’s thin film technology to identify opportunities for improvement, and then the students will conduct a market analysis with an eye towards finding areas of potential growth.

“They’ve really done very well in picking up the science,” Reinow said. “Their big challenge is trying to understand the entire market for thin films; it’s immense. When you look at their work, there are multiple pages of search results. They’ll be looking at all the data and try to narrow it down into areas to target.”

Winclechter said they learned as much as they can about Intor’s niche within the optics industry so they can narrow down their focus for a marketing development plan.

The 15-year-old company on the north side of Socorro manufactures optical thin films that filter all light except for certain wavelengths. These thin films are used in a variety of devices, including blood scanners, spectrometers, other biomedical devices and range finders.

Intor isn’t using the newest manufacturing equipment, but the students have found that investing in the latest, high-tech machinery would be counterproductive for the company.

“Their equipment is so finely tuned and so robust that it’d be a waste of money to invest in new equipment,” Winclechter said.
Whitehorse added that, “They know their equipment so well and they have a tremendous skill set.”  Reinow added that “there’s still an opportunity to improve their production process, although their high quality may not be significantly impacted.”

Stan Bryn, co-owner of Intor Inc. in Socorro, gives a tour of the shop to students (from left) Cody Winclechter, Gavin Torres, Natalie Earthman and Byron Whitehorse.

The students’ main challenge is in marketing. They want to develop a plan for the Intor management team to deliver a specific message to potential clients: Intor produces high-quality products at competitive prices.

“The big challenge is to get consumers to understand their level of quality,” Torres said.

The team will finish the official project by the end of the fall 2009 semester, but they’re so excited about working with Intor that they are hoping to secure funding from Sandia National Laboratory to continue their work next semester. If Reinow and Anselmo are successful in extending funding, the team hopes to continue the project as an internship or independent study.

“Personally, this project is really helping me to realize my knowledge base,” Torres said. “We’re using skills we have learned in all our classes – accounting, finance, strategy. As a team, it’s really cool to see everyone’s skill set come together.”

As an electrical engineering major, Winclechter can help the rest of the team with the optics technology. The team has also had input from electrical engineering department chair Dr. Scott Teare, Tech’s resident optics guru.

“Dr. Teare has given us a lot of insight into their market and helps us appreciate their niche,” Winclechter said.

Intor co-owner Scott Botko said he jumped at the opportunity to partner with management students at New Mexico Tech.

“These students are all studying business and management and I don’t have any background in that,” Botko said. “If we were to do our own marketing survey or hire a firm, it would cost a tremendous amount of money, but these students have access to all the information they need and they can lay out a path forward for us.”

Intor uses proprietary equipment that allows the company to reap significantly larger yields than their competitors, Botko said. Their high efficiency allows them to offer the finished product at lower prices than many of their competitors, he said.

The Animal Haven project, funded by LANL, is focused on developing an inexpensive technology solution to a manual recordkeeping problem.  The project team is Jessica Stringfield, John Franks and Adam Troemner.  Their task is to devise a stream-lined method of digitally tracking medications at the veterinary clinic.

To comply with federal regulations, veterinary clinics must keep copious records of their medications. The students are tasked with developing a fully automated and cost-effective technique of tracking medications.

The students will assess commercially available electronic medical records programs – all of which are expensive, then attempt to develop their own software program that is user-friendly, accessible and inexpensive. The best-case scenario is that they discover that there is a wide market for their software.

Stringfield said the team’s initial challenge is to understand the human element – how the veterinary clinic staff handles data entry digitally and manually. In designing a new software system, they’re aiming for a user-friendly data entry system that permits the clinic to satisfy all the state and federal regulations that govern their activities.

Troemner said the project provides them with an excellent experience.

“In most homework assignments, you assume an imaginary client,” Troemner said. “This project forces you to interact and to enter a real business environment. We’re not working in a vacuum.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech