Students apply cutting-edge research to work

by Gavin Wilson
Staff writer

Paul Hiom says he has found the best of both worlds as he plans to pursue his master's degree through the Centre of Operations Excellence (COE).

The Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration program combines work experience and classroom teaching, but adds cutting-edge applied research.

In fact, Hiom, other graduate students and faculty in the program work closely with private companies to solve complex management operations problems.

"COE really fills the gap," says Hiom. "You don't have to choose between education and getting work experience. You can do both at once while preparing for a career."

COE's aim is to share knowledge, skills and practices between academics and industry while sponsoring an applied master's program in management science and information technology.

The overall goal of the program is to improve the efficiency of companies through the design and implementation of state-of-the-art operations -- those processes used to produce and deliver goods and services.

The COE graduate program was modeled on similar programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Montreal, which respectively focus on manufacturing and transportation.

UBC faculty members also sought input from corporate partners such as BCTEL, BCTEL Mobility, BC Gas, Canadian Airlines, Weldwood of Canada, VanCity Credit Union, Avcorp Industries and the Workers' Compensation Board while developing the program. Several of these companies have become partners, offering students a variety of opportunities.

"We look for projects that apply cutting-edge research while providing practical educational experiences for our students," says Prof. Martin Puterman, COE's director and founder.

Some COE projects to date include:

* Development of software tools to enable the Workers' Compensation Board's call centre to face problems with staff scheduling and customer waiting times.

* Development of a management queuing tool to help solve production problems for Avcorp Industries, a Richmond-based supplier of aerospace assemblies for aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing, de Havilland and McDonnell-Douglas.

COE is sponsoring a new 16-month Master of Science in Business Administration degree program beginning this September.

About 20 students will be admitted to the program next fall and many of them will receive financial support of up to $17,000.

As well as regular classwork, the students will work with a partner organization throughout the school year, serve a four-month internship with the same company and write a detailed report on the results of their projects.

With a $50,000 grant from UBC's Discretionary Research Fund and funding from participating companies, COE is on its way to becoming financially self-sufficient.