GVSU students partner with GE Appliances, Kendall College in design opportunity
Students at Grand Valley State University and Kendall College of Art and Design got a rare chance to team up on a recent project. Students from both schools combined their talents to work with First Build, a subsidiary company of GE Appliances, in a course offered last semester.
Their goal was to design innovative new products for the company. The products designed were a dry meat ager and an automatic refrigerator door opener, done separately by two teams of three students each. A number of GVSU faculty members, including marketing professor Paul Lane, guided the students throughout the process. Each team consisted of a marketing student and an engineering student, both from GVSU, and an industrial design student from KCAD.
“It was a huge deal for me to be able to work on this project,” said Zach Skogheim, who worked on the dry meat ager. “I got a lot out of it, and it was great being able to work with my professors. It was an awesome experience.”
Skogheim is a sophomore studying entrepreneurship and finance at GVSU. According to him, the dynamic within the teams was a big part of what made them successful.
“We all worked cohesively, but Jordan is a diamond in the rough,” Skogheim said, referring to Jordan Vanderham, the engineering student on his team. “He’s an engineer, but he’s got an entrepreneurial mindset. He’s a really talented guy, and he helped me out a lot as well. He actually recommended me for the marketing position, and then Dr. Lane agreed to be my supervisor and help me with everything.”
Stephen Lietz, who worked on the market research for the automatic refrigerator door, said he also appreciated the help of experienced professionals throughout the process.
“I feel that going forward I’ve got a lot of guidance,” he said. “It’s huge to have that in your network. Having the chance to work with the incredible faculty that were involved on the project was a big deal.”
According to Lietz, one of his biggest challenges in the project was identifying their market.
“Initially we thought the market was just going to be people in wheelchairs,” he said. “But when we went down to Louisville and had a chance to talk to some experts, we realized that fall risk is a huge problem, and that broadened our market. Through some different validations, we gained some insight into our target market.
"We found that they’re the people that might not necessarily have physical limitations right now, but they will in the future—people ages 50 to 75. It’s in their mind that things are going to change, so we thought, how can we redesign the home to maintain independence?”
Lietz is a junior studying marketing and entrepreneurship. He said this experience was just as much about understanding people as it was about understanding the market.
“In design thinking, you have empathy; you’re trying to see the world from other people’s eyes,” he said. “In the future, I’d like to be coming up with more and more new ideas and be involved in some capacity in this new product environment.”
Samuel Oostendorp, a senior studying product development and manufacturing engineering, said he enjoyed the variety of majors that were represented on each team.
“This was valuable because it gave me a chance to work on an interdisciplinary team,” he said. “All the other teams I’ve worked on have been just engineers, and we all think alike. But this project gave me a chance to see things from the industrial design side of things and the marketing side of things. In the real world, that’s more likely. It was also fun to pair up with someone from another college.”
At the end of the semester, the teams presented the results of their hard work to engineers from First Build in Louisville, Kentucky. Skogheim said the company has plans to continue the development of their products.
“The last I’ve heard is that they (GE) actually loved our prototype, and they were going to take it to a convention of some sort,” Skogheim said. “In February, we had plans to start the process of bringing the product to Kickstarter, and that was kind of how they were going to introduce it to the market.”
Oostendorp, who worked on the refrigerator, said he plans to continue work on the project this semester.
“We actually have two different design courses in my major,” he said. “I’m currently in the second design course, and I chose to continue this automatic fridge door project. I’m on a team with three other engineers. We’re just trying to improve the project and make it more applicable.”