The 2020 Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference was held February 7-8, at The Inn at Virginia Tech. The conference was hosted by the Virginia Tech Student Chapter of IISE and the Virginia Tech Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. The theme Power of the Past, Force of the Future encouraged students to reflect on the ways in which Industrial and Systems Engineering has changed and challenged them to look to the future of an ever-changing field.

The event started with an inspiring keynote from Executive Coach and Author Elise Foster. With participants, Elise explored the question, “why do some leaders create genius, while others drain it?” She explained how the role of a traditional leader was to “know, direct and tell”, but the future of leadership lies in a leader’s ability to ask the right questions and harness intelligence.

“Everyone in the room was engaged, their eyes open and fixed on the stage,” said Michael Lyons, director of conference relations. “Their ears perked up to ensure that they didn’t miss that one idea that would transform their understanding of leadership.”

The multigenerational Power of the Past, Force of the Future Panel featured young professionals, entrepreneurs, and senior leadership who gave their insight and predictions on upcoming trends in the field of Industrial and Systems Engineering. The panel Pushing the Boundaries of Industrial and Systems Engineering showcased how an Industrial and Systems Engineering skill set could be leveraged into “non-traditional” roles in consulting, finance, healthcare, and marketing.

“I think many students believe there is a defined set of careers for industrial and systems engineers,” said Elianna Gerb, regional conference coordinator. “After hearing from the panelists, I see that this is far from the case. A degree in industrial and systems engineering offers a breadth of versatility and transferable skills.” 

The Conference also featured the annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Technical Paper Competition during which students presented their research and internship projects to a panel of judges from industry and academia. The participants included Mary Grace Stachnik from Clemson University, Jovan Lawless from North Carolina A&T State University, and Zachary Beckley and Ally DeVall from Virginia Tech.

Throughout the Conference, there were several interactive workshops, encouraging students to learn about Lean ideology, the agile framework of Scrum, engineering communication, and mindfulness. Students embodied the Virginia Tech motto Ut Prosim—That I May Serve in the Lessons in Lean through Service breakout session in which, in partnership with VT Engage, over 140 dry meals were packed for the New River Valley Community. 

“The sessions were meant to engage the participants by facilitating discussions that enabled the learning of how industrial and systems engineering can be applicable to numerous situations and job fields,” said Kaitylyn Coughlin, director of university relations. “This showed the participants that the field is ever-changing and they can carry on with this knowledge to take on the world they desire!” 

A company showcase featuring Advoco, Northrop Grumman, Alpine Consulting Partners, Altria, Duke Health, and scrLogic gave students a valuable opportunity to network and create individual connections with industry representatives. 

The event concluded with the Engineering Leadership Dinner featuring a keynote from entrepreneur Marty Muscatello.

“Marty spoke about his passion for entrepreneurship and how he took a risk, leaving his comfortable job, to start his own business,” said Caroline Verrecchia, director of logistics. “His keynote resonated with so many students and professionals who are looking to apply their Industrial and Systems Engineering thinking to brand new ideas.” 

The Conference created a unique crossroads for a diverse community of students, educators, researchers, and innovators. Both students and seasoned professionals left the Conference ready to become a Force of the Future.