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High aspirations fulfilled in senior design partnership with Collins Aerospace

July 1, 2019

When a company partners with Northern Illinois University’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET), the sky is the limit in terms in terms of the ways students and the company can benefit.  That’s what you’ll hear when you ask Professor Ghazi Malkawi about his team’s experience working on a 2019 Senior Design Project called “Asset Management System” with sponsor Collins Aerospace of Rockford.

The company sponsored a project team whose task was to find a more efficient way to track items on the aerospace manufacturer’s shop floor. The system they developed can accurately locate hundreds of items within feet of their actual position as they move through the flow in the plant.

Students use the engineering techniques, projects, and tools they learned in the classroom and the industry partner provides guidance to keep the project on track. Collins Aerospace has been involved with the CEET for more than 20 years.

“This program gives the student an opportunity to gain experience in the workplace while giving Collins an opportunity to develop talent and provide long term opportunities for these students,” said Chris Griffiths, Executive Director of Program Engineering for Collins Aerospace.

“Industry professionals who involve themselves in the Senior Design Program have the chance to truly engage students in a meaningful experience by bringing together the concepts of practical application and ultimately culminates in a solution for the company,” said Dean of NIU’s CEET, Donald Peterson.

Beyond the Senior Design Project, there are many ways that industry partners can benefit from such a relationship. Multiple senior design teams can work on different parts of large projects. For complex ongoing projects, a new team can take over the project the next year, where the previous team left off. Graduate students can take a project further with a deeper dive into research and development. Or, a company can have a student project team build educational, research and development labs related to companies’ products and technologies.

“We are always seeking to develop long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with local and regional industries,” said Peterson. “We combine our expertise in engineering fields to improve productivity and profitability while providing our students with real-world learning experiences.”

In the end, all three of the students on the Collins Aerospace team were hired by the company after graduation. One of the team members will work in the same department and help with the implementation and continuous development of the asset management system. The other two team members were hired to work in other departments and provide assistance with system implementation and continuous improvements as needed.

“NIU is a hidden gem in northern Illinois.  I would encourage local industries to get involved with the CEET program at NIU,” said Griffiths. “The quality of the students from NIU always continues to impress.  As an alumnus of NIU class of 1994, I have seen the investment in the CEET, which improves the quality of education of the students and prepares them for future success.”

Interested companies can contact the Director of Outreach Gary Smith at [email protected] or 815-753-1690 or visit