Engineering grad accelerates industry impact through projects, internships

Contact: Erin Flynn
Julia Haas holds her hands in the shape of a W while posing for a picture in her graduation cap and gown.

Julia Haas will graduate with a bachelor's degree in industrial and entrepreneurial engineering, and she's on the fast track to getting her master's next year through Western's accelerated program.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Sometimes dreams build themselves.

"I've always loved building things, always playing with Lego as a kid," says Julia Haas, of Marine City, Michigan. An industrial engineering assignment her first year at Western Michigan University sealed the deal on her future. 

"Once we did the project and my team did really well, I decided it was my calling and I stuck with it. And I’ve loved all the classes—even the financial part of it and probability and statistics just really stuck with me," she says. 

Now, three years later, Haas is graduating with a bachelor's degree in industrial and entrepreneurial engineering and is on the fast track to earn her master's next year through Western's accelerated program. 

Her success is built on multiple opportunities to put what she learned in the classroom into practice, and she didn't have to wait long to start getting her feet wet.

Haas competed in—and won—the Bronco Pitch Competition her second year at Western. The annual event challenges students to team up and develop innovative product ideas before pitching them to industry experts for cash prizes. Haas and her group created a concept called Lux Scrub, an attachment for a kitchen faucet comprising a soap reservoir, retractable hose and rotating water turbine that uses water pressure to function.

"The idea was to make washing dishes easier and faster," Haas says. Her team spent hours researching materials, costs, feasibility and potential competition. They even forecasted sales over several years to confirm viability. "It was really nice to see the design process, because a lot of my friends at other schools and in other disciplines were still just taking classes about statistics and learning basic theory while I was actually doing a project."

Another course paired Haas and her engineering peers with students in Western's product design program. Combining the skills they'd developed in class with mentorship from a designer at industry leader Bissell, the students created an accessible walker with ergonomically friendly adjustable handles and arms as well as lighting to prevent falls at night.

"It was nice having students from both disciplines, because (industrial engineers) are more focused on the process it takes to manufacture it and the entrepreneurial side, but building it in computer-aided design and bringing it to life is (product design's) whole degree," Haas says. "It was great to come in with our ideas, what we know can be feasible, and get their input on how to make products innovative and aesthetic and everything working together."

Haas' undergraduate experience culminated in a senior design project that put her team in the driver's seat to solve a scheduling challenge for their sponsor, the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids. The nonprofit did not have a uniform room reservation system, so the team conducted a space assessment and completed a system analysis to create an applicable room model before researching scheduling software to meet the organization's needs.


A portrait of Julia Haas

Haas is looking forward to an internship this summer with Perrigo.

For the past two years, Haas has worked as a quality engineer intern at Battle Creek Equipment. As a small medical device manufacturer in Michigan, she has had the opportunity to see the entire manufacturing and operations process.

"I was able to translate what I learned in my classes by forecasting product sales," she says. "I was able to show the best method to have a more secure way of conducting those forecasts." 

Haas also analyzes customer feedback and lifecycle testing for the company, determining why some products might have issues and testing them out. 

"If a product is returned because the heater wire failed: Why did it fail? Was it misuse or is it actually the design?" says Haas. "So, I figure out if we need to make an engineering design change, or if it was misused by the customer, how can we avoid that so it doesn't happen in the future?"

This summer, she's excited to have a new opportunity with Perrigo, the world's largest manufacturer of over-the-counter self-care products, as a production engineering intern.

"I'm excited to see, after being involved in the quality side of (engineering), how I can translate that into doing production and apply what I learned in school to that aspect of it."

Haas says the industrial engineering program's focus on experience-driven learning has given her a leg up on her career goals.

"Getting that outside experience, industry sponsorships and mentorship and actually doing the work is a huge advantage," Haas says. "Our professors tell us they get a lot of feedback from companies saying they want to hire Broncos because, compared to Michigan or Purdue where they are more textbook-based and theoretical, we're really getting experience. … It's nice to know that there is a demand for me outside of here as soon as I graduate."

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.