Companies often ask us for ways to find a competitive advantage in recruiting U-M students.
While our advice is tailored to the needs and priorities of the company, some of our general advice is for companies to brand themselves to specific student “customer segments” and to build personal, experience-based relationships with students.

Our website has a list of programs that offer these opportunities.

One of our favorites is the Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP) in the College of Engineering.

MDP provides students with vetted engineering design project opportunities, matching teams of 5-7 qualified students from schools across campus with customers from a variety of organizations to develop practical design skills while delivering results that have significant impact for the sponsoring organization over the course of the two-semester project.

Yes, MDP can help you recruit top talent, but the program can help your organization solve some serious business issues.

“It’s a win-win program,” says Stella Wixom, Senior Executive Director of the Business Engagement Center. Students get the opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge in a real-world environment, and the multidisciplinary approach leads to critical cost saving opportunities or business solutions for the companies, while the company gets the chance to work seamlessly with students they may want to hire.”

35-40 companies a year take advantage of the opportunity. The variety of industries participating represents the diverse needs for interdisciplinary business solutions. From automotive to information technology to financial services, the complex demand for creative forward-thinking across industries is the true bottom line for MDP participants.

Most companies are repeaters in the program, and student demand to participate from schools across campus exceeds capacity for the program.


The Recruiting Edge

Union Pacific sponsors a team year after year, leveraging creative problem solving with access to students. “Our participation with MDP allows us to create and maintain a solid recruiting base at one of the top Engineering schools in the country. Beyond that, we are able to make progress on the development of important financial systems by utilizing the skills of the U-M students,” shares Dani Lucht, lead of IT at Union Pacific Railroad.

JP Morgan agrees and has hired full-time 45 U-M students over the last eight years.

“Participating in the MDP Program is a no-lose situation. It is a program I would recommend to anyone interested – you will never be disappointed,” says Todd Ippen, executive champion for the U-M relationship and Executive Director of Wholesale Loan Technology at JP Morgan.


Blown Away

Ippen’s experience reflects how the integration of fresh minds with specific business challenges can deliver creative and on target results from the student teams.

“Every project that we offer for the MDP program are real projects that will solve an immediate business need for the firm. The first JPMorgan Chase team set the bar really high by beginning production preparation activities in November of their project year.  Every MDP project team since has kept improving their delivery timelines, where now August has become the norm. The continued success of the MDP teams at JP Morgan is widely noticed and appreciated. The 2019 team had an opportunity to present their project to their line of business CEO. He was so impressed with the work the students completed, he wanted to offer each of them full time jobs on the spot.”

ProQuest continues to sponsor MDP teams year after year. With some solidly designed projects and some experimental ideas, they use the MDP program as project validity and testing environment. CTO Roger Valade says, “The interns which we have been able to draw from MDP have been some of the best interns which we have had at ProQuest. They are talented, ambitious, and eager to take on challenging, out-of-the-comfort-zone work.”

Valade says, “Every year there are at least one or two students who really stand out as people who will have an impact on the industry. The students who bring the most energy and enthusiasm tend to contribute the most and also get the most out of the project. We’ve tended to get the best production out of undergrads, on par with the grad students involved.”


Mutually Beneficial Relationship

Tyler Cialek (‘16) was a masters student in Industrial and Operations Engineering when participating in MDP on a JP Morgan project. “The project involved an exciting mix of math, finance, and computer science with the objective of speeding up derivative computations. The MDP experience proved to be a much richer experience than a traditional semester-long project or summer internship.  I received coaching from my very intelligent and motivated teammates, the MDP staff, and the corporate sponsors at JP Morgan. Ultimately, when I wasn’t offered funding for my master’s for fall semester, JP Morgan offered me a permanent position working in New York in credit risk analytics and supported the remainder of my graduate studies part-time while working.”

Through all the effort, the projects make an impact on a corporation’s bottom line.

Union Pacific has found a great vein for students to sink their teeth into year after year. “Union Pacific has had many successful projects that were started by MDP teams. We’ve completely rewritten two systems, done some analysis, and gotten halfway through a third system. This year will mark the fourth system to be worked on,” shares Dani Lucht.

Valade echoes the impact: “MDP work has contributed to development of prototype text and data mining product pilots which have been used by hundreds of students in several pilot test cases. This is one of the leading innovation product lines for ProQuest. Projects have also been very valuable for exploring preliminary areas of potential product development. Students often bring to the project a knowledge of new and emerging technologies which we at ProQuest can learn from and develop towards.”

With a backlog of students interested in participating and organizations repeatedly sponsoring projects, there is a clear value to the program. Both continue to grow, thanks to strong partnerships with hundreds of companies at U-M. Wixom adds, “MDP serves as a best practice for connecting students to companies who are interested in cultivating their own next generation of leaders. We can’t share the program with enough organizations!”


More about the Multidisciplinary Design Program.

More about the Business Engagement Center.