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Industry partnership a win-win for all

UIC and MIE alumnus Paul Vesely at a sprayability of viscous materials station

Farzad Mashayek, professor and department head of mechanical and industrial engineering (MIE) at UIC, was recently awarded a new grant from Spraying Systems Co. to adapt an electrostatic atomization concept for commercial nozzle coating applications. This industry research collaboration has been going on for 15 years, with funding in excess of $1 million.

In addition to the funding, MIE’s unique partnership with the Wheaton, Illinois-based company has several aspects that mutually benefit the company, UIC, and MIE students at all levels. Throughout the past five years, more than 40 UIC students that have been involved with company through internships, senior design projects, master’s and PhD studies, and employment.

The company’s chief science officer, Rudi Schick, also serves as the chair of MIE’s Industrial Advisory Board, which is composed of professionals who represent a broad range of firms and which functions as a bridge between the department and industry.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Mashayek said. “Through our agreement with Spraying Systems, students pursuing master’s or PhD degrees are financially supported and get industry experience, and they can also get hired on at the company. It is also a win-win situation for the company because they get to work with the students. The students get trained in what they want, and then Spraying Systems gets to see the students up close and know their capabilities.”

Alumnus Paul Vesely earned his master’s degree under the direction of Schick at Spraying Systems and Mashayek at UIC. “I worked at Spraying Systems 20 hours a week as a research assistant instead of working in a UIC lab,” he said. “They paid my tuition, like a normal master’s or PhD student and, during the summers, I worked full time for the company.”

After completing his degree in 2017, Vesely was hired as a research engineer in the company’s Spray Analysis and Research Services division, where he is part of a team that conducts spray characterization testing and makes nozzles and systems for spray fluids.

“We work with customers to help them optimize or develop new spray processes and coating applications,” he explained. “I also do prototype-design based on what the outcome is of some of our testing. Sometimes a standard nozzle doesn’t fit the need, and we’ll provide the customer with a design to help them get the solution they need.”

Fostering further education is a key aspect of the partnership. Apart from students earning their degrees, the partnership has led to published papers and patents. Recently, Spraying Systems received a patent based on research Vesely started when he was a student at UIC. 

Guiding Undergraduate Students

In addition to supporting graduate students and collaborating on research with faculty members, Spraying Systems provides guidance to MIE’s undergraduates by sponsoring senior design teams with real-world challenges for students to investigate and solve for the annual Engineering Expo.

“They consistently sponsor projects every year and work closely with the students,” Mashayek said. “From that group of students, sometimes they hire directly, and sometimes I pick students for the master’s program.”

Phil McDonough was introduced to Schick and the company when they sponsored his team’s 2020 project called Rainfall Design. The team designed a system that can emulate rainfall for product testing, with a primary goal of producing large droplets.

“I really liked the hands-on experience working with a company that’s doing real-life projects, not just theoretical,” said McDonough, who was hired as a project engineer at Spraying Systems based on the impression he made during the senior design project. “I really think it positioned me well, gave me good experience, and prepared me for the workforce.”

While McDonough is not pursuing a master’s or PhD, he continues to grow as an engineer at the company. He works on the company’s newly formed innovation team, which provides learning opportunities through research and testing.

“They understand that I’m not an expert in every area, and there are some things that I’m being asked to do that don’t line up perfectly with my background,” McDonough said. “It’s a very good balance of understanding and also pushing me to do things that I haven’t done before in order to improve.”

At UIC, Schick also provides industry insight to mechanical and industrial engineering students in the seminar course for graduating students to discuss different topics from an industry point of view.

“He has been a regular guest speaker every semester for the past four years to talk about ethics, how to prepare for job interviews, the importance of continuous learning and identifying mentors, and what to expect after graduation when applying one’s knowledge in the workforce,” Mashayek said.

“Bringing young people along and helping them develop into professionals is something we all should aspire to do. And that’s what I like about the partnership with UIC,” Schick added.

Learn more about master’s and PhD programs.