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Apprentice meets American Idol for engineering entrepreneurs

Titans1Engineering students Aaron Beauclair, Garrett Hummel, Sydney Schaaf plot their business moves during the JA Titan competition.

titans 2
Engineering students Tim Winslow, Laura Langemeier and Ben McMillan collaborate on a JA Titan scenario.

Photos: Carole Wilbeck

Not many people are cheering "market forces" these days. But in a computer lab beneath the UNL College of Engineering, high fives and knuckle bumps erupted on a November night during a business simulation competition for students.

JA Titan is a web-based game created by Junior Achievement to help students learn entrepreneurial skills. According to the JA Titan Web site, the experience features "changing economic conditions to gradually challenge" participants.

Fifty UNL engineering freshmen, sophomores and juniors showed up to participate in 21 teams of one to three students. Gathered around computer screens, the teams gained information to help them shape strategies for their manufacturing companies, including marketing and capital investments. The winner was the team with the highest company Performance Index, based on retained earnings, market share, productivity and growth. Prizes at Nebraska Engineering included $100 per person for the top team and, of course, bragging rights.

"Most engineers use entrepreneurial skills as well as their technical skills in their work environment," said Norm Newhouse, vice president of technology with Lincoln Composites, and a Nebraska Engineering alumnus, who stopped by to offer real world perspective to students taking the JA Titan challenge. "Engineers are involved in product development to better meet customer needs, marketing their inventions to management and products to customers, and participating in decisions on capital expenses to improve production. JA Titan introduces these types of decisions."

Dave Williams, the college's assistant director of retention, wants to make JA Titan a Nebraska Engineering tradition. The idea came from alumnus Bob Brightfelt (B.S. 1965 and M.S. 1967, ME), who tested the business simulation with students during his involvement with the Engineering Learning Community's annual trips. Brightfelt also sponsored the competition this year.

"Opening this experience up to the whole engineering student community extends the opportunity and the benefit," Williams said. "We'd like to grow this event to include our students in Omaha, and hopefully add competition with other programs at UNL."

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