While some students spent their spring break relaxing on the beach, one industrial engineering undergraduate spent hers learning about engineering in the Netherlands.
Jaclyn Stiller, a sophomore in industrial engineering, recently participated in the Vermeer International Leadership Program which is a collaborative effort between the Pella, Iowa-based Vermeer Corporation and Iowa State’s Leadership Studies Program. The program consists of two leadership courses, one in the fall and one in the spring, where participants work with Vermeer professionals to learn about global leadership.
“We interview executives at Vermeer, visit their headquarters in Pella, Iowa, and met with Vermeer professionals at their regional office in the Netherlands over spring break,” Stiller said.
The main focus of the spring leadership course was on how to use adaptive leadership to solve global challenges. Participants also completed a project which involved working with Vermeer employees from an international regional office to address the adaptive challenges for their assigned country. Stiller and her team focused on Singapore.
“From this experience, the biggest thing I’ve learned about engineering is the importance of understanding cultural differences when interacting in international markets,” said Stiller. “Doing business globally requires real mindfulness of the attitudes and perceptions that differ between the U.S. and other countries.”
One example of this is how Vermeer modified its European product line to better align with the cultural expectations of a smaller and quieter work environment. Stiller said that the program also helped to give her a different perspective for how to approach challenges.
“Another thing I’ve learned is how to identify and solve adaptive challenges, which are challenges that require more than just technical solutions. They require a change of heart from people, and the solution comes slowly through creativity, collaboration, and skills such as emotional intelligence and cultural competence,” she said.
For Stiller, the Vermeer program served as an opportunity for her to take the skills and concepts that she learned in the classroom and apply them to real world situations. She said the things she’s learned in Leslie Potter’s IE 222: Process Improvement course have been especially applicable.
“It surprised me how many leadership concepts from the Vermeer Program showed up in The Toyota Way in the way it emphasizes the importance of people in an organization,” said Stiller. “I was also able to geek out any time we toured a Vermeer facility in Pella or the Netherlands that was practicing Lean principles like 5S, Kaizen, and other continuous improvement strategies.”
Another aspect of the program that was memorable for Stiller was the opportunity for her and her colleagues to truly embed themselves in the Dutch culture. Stiller had the opportunity to visit Europe during a vacation with her family about eight years ago but she said things were much different this time.
“In our free time, we were encouraged to have conversations with the local Dutch people to learn about their lives, and we rarely saw the typical tourist attractions. I felt like I was seeing the real Holland, and not just the postcard version,” she said.
Stiller grew up in Rochester, Minnesota and developed an interest in engineering at an early age because of her parents who are both electrical engineers.
“Iowa State was an easy choice for me once I saw the reputation of its engineering program and the warm community of faculty and staff ready to support its students,” said Stiller. “I chose industrial engineering because I enjoy working with complex systems and making them perform at their best. I also love that industrial engineers are needed in practically every industry.”
Stiller plans to graduate in the spring of 2020. After graduation she said she hopes to work for a medical device company where she can design safer and more effective medical technology. She said she was very grateful to the Vermeer Corporation for this opportunity and encourages other students to study abroad.
“My advice to anyone thinking of studying abroad is to do it. I know that’s much easier said than done, but if you keep your eyes open for opportunities and plan ahead, even week-long study abroad programs can have a huge impact on your worldview.”