ESC History

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The Enterprise Systems Center (ESC) has been a national center of excellence in systems engineering and leadership through experiential learning for the past 40 years. Since its inception, the ESC has completed more than 1,125 research and development projects with over 450 industry partners, and has had over 4,125 undergraduate and graduate student researchers. Participation in diverse teams achieving real world deliverables provides students with experiences that positively impact their career preparation.  The ESC engages students in interdisciplinary teams with professors, experienced mentors and industry partners, to help companies grow and compete in a global marketplace.

In 1973, Dr. Emory Zimmers received a computer graphics terminal from Bell Labs. This grant, along with several mini-computer systems from Western Electric’s Allentown Works marked the birth of the Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) Laboratory. Funding from the National Science Foundation and a major partnership agreement with IBM spurred the creation of the Computer-Integrated Manufacturing Laboratory (CIM Lab) in 1985, concurrent with the IE department’s move to the Harold S. Mohler Laboratory. CIM enabled an entire production process to be controlled by computer.  Despite being ground-breaking technology at the time, the mainframes and peripherals filled one-third of the Mohler Lab’s second floor.

The organization was renamed the Enterprise Systems Center in 1995, reflecting a broader shift toward systems approach in industry. In 1998 the ESC initiated corporate sponsorship and developed the “Collaboratory,” aimed at promoting further cooperation among academic, industry, and government partners using advanced technologies. 

It was during this time that a "layered mentoring" approach was established to tackle actual company challenges and accomplish deliverables that provide measurable value.  

The PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) funded the Pennsylvania Agile Manufacturing Program through the ESC in 1995. The goal was to improve the competitiveness and growth of PA manufacturing companies by implementing agile business practices. This program was operated by the ESC for over sixteen years.

In 2004, the National Science Foundation invited Lehigh to become a partner in their Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program. As part of this initiative, Dr. Zimmers was asked to lead the Center for Engineering Logistics and Distribution (CELDi) at Lehigh University, which worked in partnership with the ESC. In 2006, Lehigh was invited to be a founding member of the National Coalition for Manufacturing Innovation (NCMI). This national coalition was dedicated to sustainable manufacturing practices, which conserve vital and non-renewable natural resources and severely limit negative environmental and health effects.

In 2007, the Enterprise Systems Center became sponsor of the Lehigh Chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success.

In 2008 the Innovation and Leadership Residency (ILR) was established which provides an opportunity for students to engage in the real-life activities of future business leaders as they prepare to present their innovations and plans to Venture Capitalists.  This program provides students with a transformational experience that captures the challenges of entrepreneurship through immersion in the actual process of seeking investment with real entrepreneurs and real investors. This collaboration was inspired by  ESC collaborator Mike Gausling.

In 2013  the ESC added the Advanced Analytics Lab.  This new capability is supported by the SAS Institute. The laboratory has facilitated additional company partnerships and provided significantly enhanced project-based learning experiences for undergraduate and graduate students. 

In 2015, for the fourth year in a row, the ESC and the ISE Department were honored as finalists in the INFORMS UPS George D. Smith Competition.  INFORMS formally recognized the collaboration between the center and the department to nurture a vibrant educational ecosystem producing effective young practitioners of operations research (0.R.) and analytics including industry project based, experiential learning. 

In 2015, a Global Leadership Workshop was developed, leveraging extensive input from successful business leaders to provide participants with a structure for exploring and understanding effective leadership theories, principles, and processes.  Workshop techniques, coupled with executive leader presentations helped attendees effectively apply this knowledge to their personal and professional lives. 

In 2016, the Ben Franklin Technology Program (BFTP/NEP) honored ESC in recognition of the total number of students who worked on Ben Franklin projects topping 2,000. Ben Franklin News stated, “The ESC is a key university resource to BFTP/NEP clients that provides pivotal technical expertise and support. Linking regional early-stage technology firms and established manufacturer clients with the resources of Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities is an important part of BFTP/NEP’s mission. Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center (ESC) has been a long-time economic development partner of Ben Franklin and the organizations have worked together since the program’s inception.”

In 2017, the Enterprise Systems Center partnered with the ISE Department to participate in the college-wide KEEN Grant Initiative.  The KEEN Project focused on ISE 112 (Computer Graphics) and utilized computer resources of the ESC laboratory as well as working to develop new instructional content.  An important goal of this initiative was to understand and be able to apply KEEN’s three “C’s” of Entrepreneurial Mindset (Curiosity, Connections, Creating Value).  As a part of learning to apply the KEEN C’s, student teams are tasked with developing an improved product design of their own choosing using tools and techniques previously mastered in the course. 

In 2017, Brenda and John McGlade ’76 made a donation of 18 state-of-the-art computers for the ESC.  This generous gift allowed the Center to better serve more undergraduate students from across the University. The ESC will be able to provide a variety of enhanced software resources to enable effective instruction in computing intensive courses. The enhanced computing power has enabled the ESC to accommodate the additional demand of new collaborative leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship courses as well as providing students with a technical platform for involvement in the new initiatives of the Department, College and University in general.

Also in 2017 the alumni driven ESC Alumni Affinity Group was founded.   Functioning as an informal structure for many years, the ESC benefits in many ways by ongoing association with alumni.  As a result of a recently completed long-range planning effort lead by Keith Krenz ‘79, the ESC has established the following four key objectives: Refine and enhance ESC organizational structure and core processes; work to fully engage and involve its “alumni” (past students as well as project partners); support objectives of “Path to Prominence”; and broaden ESC’s regional and national recognition.

 In 2018, 119 students participated in over 50 projects run by the ESC.  Sixty-eight students were part of the ISE 254 Capstone Course.  For the Spring Semester 2018, virtually all of the Capstone Course students enthusiastically participated in the First Annual Lehigh Expo.