Six Arkansas Tech University students tasked with solving a problem for Denali Water Solutions made their pitch to an audience that included nine members of the company’s leadership team at Dr. Robert Charles Brown and Jill Lestage Brown Hall on Thursday morning.
The students --- junior Avery Cook of Atkins, sophomore Mark Hatfield of Oxford, senior Maily Andraca Lopez of Dardanelle, senior Christine Sain of Dover, senior David Willard of Belleville and senior Johnny Zamorano of Glenwood --- presented their vision for the Denali Excel Reporting Tool (DERT) and accompanying digital resources that would allow the company to standardize the reporting and analysis of business data across various divisions and regions of the country.
Denali has a stated vision of offering innovative and economical solutions for the management, handling, disposal and conversion of many types of organic waste materials.
“My first reaction was positive,” said Andy McNeill, president and chief executive officer of Denali Water Solutions, after listening to the students’ presentation. “I thought it was polished and thought through at a detail that was more than I expected.”
The students were selected to work on the problem through their participation in an Independent Project Based Learning (IPBL) course taught by Dr. Julie Mikles-Schluterman, associate professor of sociology and director of the ATU Center for Community Engagement and Academic Outreach.
Mikles-Schluterman explained to those assembled for Thursday’s presentation that IPBL courses seek to provide experiences that will allow students to work in teams and apply lessons learned in other classes to solve real-world problems.
“We have had enormous support and participation in this process,” said Mikles-Schluterman. “Denali has gone above and beyond with the data, interviews and tours that they provided to our students. Our community is very fortunate to have a company that is so forward thinking and willing to invest in our students.”
The IPBL students were granted meetings with Denali officials in Russellville. They were also provided with opportunities to visit Denali facilities in Houston, Texas, and on Staten Island in New York in order to ascertain the key performance indicators affecting performance they would need to include in their proposed data reporting tool.
“The tours increased our commitment and desire to contribute to the company’s success,” said Sain. “We felt like we were part of the Denali team.”
Additional factors the team considered in developing their proposal were making the tool expandable and adaptable to future growth as well as ensuring that the deliverables would improve efficiency in measuring performance.
“Prior to this class, I didn’t understand the processes that our water and waste go through,” said Hatfield. “After hearing about it and then seeing it, I understood it and realized the importance of what Denali does.”
The IPBL student team was also assisted by faculty and staff consultants Dr. Haiyan Wang, assistant professor of agriculture, and David Waterson, programmer and analyst in the ATU Office of Information Systems.
When the process was complete, the students had done more than help solve a problem. They had become better informed citizens of the world.
“This project made me care about my actions and how they affect the planet,” said Cook. “The more I learned about the company and their environmental reputation, the more eager I was to help them and the more mindful I became of my personal environmental impact.”
Visit www.atu.edu/ipbl to learn more about Independent Project Based Learning at Arkansas Tech.