Success Stories

Supplying Local Industry

Mill Steel President Andrew Samrick, right, presents GVSU President Thomas J. Haas with a Supplier of the Year award

Each year Mill Steel of Grand Rapids recognizes one steel supplier and one non-steel supplier as suppliers of the year for their company. In an unusual move, in 2007 the company has selected Grand Valley State University as its non-steel supplier of the year thanks to the talented students and alumni it has recruited.

Over the past three years, Mill Steel has brought in Grand Valley interns and hired graduates. The company has also worked with faculty to develop major class projects in marketing and engineering and holds an annual job fair for GVSU students. The award is unprecedented by Mill Steel and to their knowledge unprecedented in the industry. The relationship between Grand Valley and Mill Steel was the subject of a Wall Street Journal feature story in June.

In 2004 the company began working with Troy Farley from GVSU's Career Services office. That fall, Mill Steel brought on its first three Grand Valley interns. In 2005, the company hired 12 GVSU grads as full-time employees, and in 2006 it brought on an additional seven. Currently, a total of 17 of the company's 41 full-time employees are Grand Valley alumni. The company also now has six employees either in the GVSU MBA program or in the application phase. It has hosted four career nights for GVSU students.

Mill Steel's People Development Director Tom Stanfield said he had a hard time making connections with education professionals until he met with Farley.

"We have the exact same philosophy. It's like we're working on the opposite sides of a river trying to build a bridge," said Stanfield. "Academia needs to feed industry, and industry needs academia as a source of knowledge, which is an important raw material. But frequently there's a big chasm between the two."

Most of the students come to Mill Steel from Seidman College of Business or the School of Engineering in the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing. Fred Kraft, of Seidman College of Business' Marketing Department, worked with Mill Steel to design a customer survey of industrial steel buyers. Students were required to design and implement the project and deliver the results in a presentation to executives in Mill Steel's boardroom.

"I thought it was extremely valuable," Kraft said. "The students take it a lot more seriously when they're collecting information that they know is actually going to be used. It beats a case study or a make-work project."

Likewise, seniors in the School of Engineering's Capstone Design Program are working on a project that Mill Steel expects will save more than $500,000 annually. School director Jeff Ray said those kinds of partnerships are critical.

"We couldn't educate the next generation of engineers that are needed without partnerships like the one with Mill Steel," Ray said. "The university benefits, the students benefit, our faculty benefits and the company benefits."

In Grand Valley’s program, teams of senior engineering students solve real-world engineering design problems sponsored by participating industries and other sponsoring organizations. The projects take two semesters to complete, and at the end the companies who participate have an actual working product. The costs for the sponsoring industries are materials and a small project fee -- the students are not paid for their work, but instead gain college credit and valuable work experience. Mill Steel submitted an Engineering Senior Project idea this year for the first time, but has employed interns and co-op workers from the engineering program.

by Brian J. Bowe

This story was filed with the tags: Awards, Business, Engineering, Helping Industry, Internships