Technology Lab Recollections
by Victor E. Sower
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
I joined the faculty at SHSU in Fall 1990. At that time there was one classroom on campus equipped with computers for student use. The Dept. Chair, Dr. Ross Lovell, had obtained the funds for this classroom and the department was responsible for maintaining it. I joined Dr. Bill Kilbourne in helping to maintain the computers and began incorporating computer applications into my OM courses.
I came from a background in process engineering and general management. During my career in the “real world” and subsequently in my consulting I worked on projects that involved automation. The OM texts at the time devoted a chapter to manufacturing automation where CNC, robots, FMC, FMS, and CIM were discussed. I embellished the text’s material with stories from my manufacturing background pointing our pitfalls, success factors, etc. I found that my students had difficulty connecting with the material and my stories. Their concept of robots came from science fiction and they had no concept of CNC, FMC, etc. I came up with the answer to this problem: we needed a robot.
When Dr. Lovell hired me he told me that my job was to make his job difficult by challenging the status quo. I decided to take him at his word. I asked him for $5,000 to purchase a robot. He agreed to take my request to the dean, Dr. James Gilmore, who thought Lovell was crazy. However he did agree to provide the $5,000. When he returned with the funding commitment, Dr. Lovell reminded me of his charge to make his life difficult and suggested that I was doing too @#%& good a job at that. I purchased the robot and incorporated it into my classes. Subsequently I designed a new MBA course—Management of Innovation and Technology. The lab provided the opportunity for the students to acquire hands-on experience with technologies with which they were unfamiliar. A number of former students have told me they overcame their tendencies toward fear of new technologies and that they were better prepared to work effectively with technologists in their organizations as a result of their experience in this course.
I wrote a pedagogical paper discussing the use of the robot in my classes and submitted it to the Southwest Business Dean’s paper competition where it won the 1994 Award. At the time we were preparing for initial accreditation by AACSB and it turns out that this award helped convince AACSB that we were innovative in our approach to teaching. From then on, Dean Gilmore brought every dignitary for a tour of the Robot Lab. He asked me what else we needed. I suggested that for an additional $10,000 we could have a FMC and a CNC machine. He immediately agreed to provide the funding and asked what was next. I suggested a machine vision system. “What!? The robot needs eyes?” was Dean Gilmore’s response.
From these humble beginnings the “Robot Lab” has evolved into a true Technology Laboratory to the great benefit of our students and our faculty. I am proud to have my name on the facility.