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College of Engineering students get hands-on experience in a German factory during their trip to Munich.

Many students view a return to school as a chance to tell stories about what they did over summer break.

For a group of students from the College of Engineering those talks will include discussing a trip to Germany, a trip that was anything but a vacation.

Klaus Blache, director of the Reliability and Maintainability Center at UT, led a class—Global Perspectives on Lean, Reliability and Maintainability—to Munich, where class work, fieldwork and lectures helped reinforce lessons on business practices that they learned back in Knoxville.

“It was rewarding to observe the growth in student understanding,” said Blache, who is also a research professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “Taking the textbook knowledge to actually realizing what needs to be accomplished in putting it to practice in different work processes and cultures, is a critical learning step.”

In addition to coursework, students spent time in locations such as the Technical University of Munich (TUM) for hands-on lean learning, observing communications satellite testing in a clean room environment, and visiting the Zeppelin airship facilities.

“On the visit to the KUKA plant they even got to see robots building other robots, which they then saw at work at a BMW plant,” said Blache.

Those visits paved the way for a better understanding of the underlying course guiding their journey, a study of business practices as seen through the focus of reducing waste and cost, collectively known as lean.

For student Haley Whitaker, the experience gave her some new insight into the world of factories as well.

“Most positive improvements in a factory come from the employees making small changes for the better,” Whitaker, a student in electrical engineering and computer sciences said in a post-trip report. “A large part of improvement is going out and seeing what’s really happening on the factory floor.”

Opportunities were made for cultural education as well, with visits taken to the world’s largest science museum, town markets, and even Salzburg, Austria.

In addition to giving the fourteen students on the trip a more well-rounded experience, the visits gave them a crucial look into how different cultures operate and how tailoring their business approach is as much about the people involved as it is the factory itself.

“Understanding people is a key to success,” said Ben Pollack, a student in industrial and systems engineering. “Often, the smartest people don’t achieve the most success. It’s the individuals who understand other people and can convey their message to others who succeed.”

Students also got to take a scavenger hunt of sorts around Munich including three weeks’ use of the city’s subways, streetcars, rail lines and buses, which left one other lasting lesson on the class, with several students noting their amazement that the system operates on the honor system.

The program’s fee of $3,999 included accommodations, all breakfasts and some other meals, and transportation, with scholarships through UT’s study abroad program and a fellowship through the college helping defray costs for some.

Blache plans on taking another class to Germany in 2016, with a focus on the northern part of the country, its factories and its culture.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the most recent trip can visit the college’s study abroad website.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683,