Professor George Lowry: "This class is about as experiential as you can get."
We’re standing in an art studio in Pace-Armistead Hall, and around us, the six students
enrolled in Lowry’s Production, Operations, and Design Management class are putting
the finishing touches on their course projects. The assignment? Plan, design and
build a model of a home in which a family of four—one of whom has a physical disability—can
comfortably and affordably live. This isn’t the first time Lowry has taught the
course, but this time it was decidedly hands-on.
“I used to teach this class as a traditional business course using quantitative
methods, and the biggest problem I faced was students had never experienced making
something from start to finish,” says Lowry. “This time I wanted to do things in
an entirely different way.” Drawing on his experience in the commercial and industrial
construction industry, Lowry taught students the principles of design and had them
build three-dimensional models.
“In this class, we talk about the fundamental aspects of a traditional operations
class where you have to think about facility location, layout, equipment, and time
management,” says Lowry, who held weekly “toolbox meetings” with students to keep
them on track. “These meetings are an opportunity for students to talk about their
goals and any stumbling blocks they’ve come up against.”
A central theme to the course is Universal Design: The model homes must be designed
to accommodate present as well as future occupants.
“Students also had to take into consideration the orientation of the house, energy
consumption, and all the other elements that are part of operations and design,”
says Lowry. “Teaching the course in this manner is a good way to manifest a lot
of those concepts into something students have some familiarity with, but it also
pushes them outside their comfort zones a bit.”
In addition to building a model home, each student put together a Reflection Report.
Lowry says that this piece of the puzzle—a kind of journal that documented the challenges
that students experienced throughout the semester—was very important.
“Many students didn’t realize at the beginning of the semester how important it
was to budget their own time,” he says. In designing and building their homes, “they
learned the importance of inventory, layout and location, privacy, and sound control.
There is so much that goes into this project.”
For Lowry, Production, Operations, and Design Management, which is cross-listed
as a Studio Art course, epitomizes the best
of what a liberal arts education offers.
“The piece that’s most gratifying is
Research Day, when students tell me, ‘I don’t want to get rid of this house,’”
says Lowry. “They each produce a Process Book—a bound edition that includes photos
of everything they’ve done throughout the semester. That’s a portfolio item; when
they go on interviews and they’re asked about their classes, they can show potential
employers their portfolios. Their work is a great demonstration of what they can
do. It’s very integrated: They’re being evaluated on a lot of what they’ve learned
in other classes—grammar, research, PowerPoint skills, economics. There are so many
Lowry joined the R-MC faculty in 1984. He earned his B.A. from Morris Harvey College,
University of Charleston, his M.S. from Radford University and his Ph.D. from Virginia
Commonwealth University. Lowry, who serves as associate director of the
Bassett Internship Program, served as director from 1995-2005.