The Enterprise Systems Center (ESC) has been a national center of excellence in systems engineering and leadership development 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 from the engineering, business and arts/science colleges. Participation in diverse teams achieving high return on investment deliverables provide students with experiences that positively impact their career preparation. ESC engages students with professors, experienced mentors and industry partners, working in interdisciplinary teams, to help companies use technology tools to 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 precursor to today’s Enterprise Systems Center. In those days it was known as the Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) Laboratory. These early efforts established the ESC at the forefront of computer and systems technology and began a tradition of industry-driven technological leadership. In the next stage of growth 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. This was concurrent with the IE department’s move to the Harold S. Mohler Laboratory and an expansion of facilities for student instruction, research and projects with industry. CIM enabled an entire production process to be controlled by computer. This was ground breaking technology, maintained with ongoing support by IBM. The mainframes and peripherals in those years filled one-third of the CIM Lab’s second floor location.
The organization was formally named the Enterprise Systems Center in 1995, reflecting the broader shift toward an overall systems approach to manufacturing and business operations. In 1998, the mainframes started to be replaced with other distributed platforms and the ESC initiated corporate sponsorship and developed the learning “Collaboratory,” aimed at promoting further cooperation among academic, industry, and government partners. The mission was to discover more effective ways to teach and learn in a collaborative environment using advanced technologies for virtual, internet, and multimedia learning. It was during this time projects undertaken established a "layered mentoring" approach to tackle actual company challenges and accomplish deliverables that provide measureable value. Incorporated in the operational methodology of the Enterprise Systems Center, the mentoring structure is multi-pronged, involving experienced mentors and practitioners as well as faculty members and subject matter experts. Mentors frequently work as consultants or research engineers in the Enterprise Systems Center. Theses consultants contribute to the Center's success often after distinguished careers in industry. Their task is to serve as a sounding board and a coach for student teams, with students having a major responsibility for the project's successful completion.
Since 1995, the ESC has leveraged its industry relationships and experiential learning success, adding new synergistic centers and programs. 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 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, Lehigh University's Enterprise Systems Center became sponsor of the Lehigh Chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success which assists in helping students in all majors to become future leaders. The ESC continues to provide experiential learning support to numerous academic programs through projects developed with industry partners. All projects stress a systems approach, leadership development and sustainability while striving to deliver a significant return on investment to the industry partners.
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 is a program that outlines methodology and delivery structure to provide students with a transformational experience that captures the leadership, innovation and technical challenges of entrepreneurship. This is accomplished through immersion in the actual process of seeking investment with real entrepreneurs and real investors. A secondary benefit is assistance to the participating entrepreneurs. This collaboration was inspired by Mike Gausling and includes experienced mentors, energetic entrepreneurs and Lehigh's Enterprise Systems Center.
A major recent addition to the ESC capabilities has been the addition of the Advanced Analytics Lab in 2013. This new capability is supported by many industry partners, Lehigh alumni, and has received needed resources and encouragement from the SAS Institute. The laboratory has facilitated additional company partnerships and provided significantly enhanced project-based learning experiences for undergraduate and graduate students. The physical facilities of the Analytics Lab have three major components. One is an open concept Analytics Research and Industry Project Work Area where all levels of participants freely interact. The second is a Project Work Station and Instructional Development Area. This space is used to design and rapidly pilot new educational content as well as provide resources to support project oriented student work. The third component is the Collaboratory which is being upgraded to support remote conferencing, student project presentations, and industry interactions for a range of student group sizes, from small to class size.