Optimizing Their Education

Although Ruth LaFrance and Romaine and Ramone Barnes arrived at industrial engineering from slightly different directions, Ruth and identical twins Romaine and Ramone all have become fascinated with ways to enhance the quality of the products we use every day and the efficiency of the processes used to manufacture them.

Almost every homeowner knows the feeling. You load the dishwasher, put in the detergent, turn the machine on, leave for work, and return hours later to find two inches of sudsy water on your kitchen floor and a dishwasher filled with still-dirty dishes.

If only there were a way to anticipate the malfunction using technology instead of having to react to it using a mop.

Self-healing Appliances

That idea became the jumping off point for Ruth, Romaine, and Ramone all seniors majoring in industrial engineering at Rutgers School of Engineering, when they began developing what would become their senior project, a rite of passage for all students in that program.

Along with a fourth student, Michael Cheng, who graduated in December, they devised a dishwasher that can keep itself from breaking down. The dishwasher can perform its own degradation analysis in order to determine how many cycles are left on each component. “The idea is that technicians can come to your home and say, ‘Your dishwasher is about to fail in the next two weeks. We’re here to replace the component or replace the dishwasher if need be,’” Romaine says.

Engineers Spread Their Wings

Want to build a machine to replicate the movement of an elbow? Or create an automated system to fix cracks in the road? Too late. Rutgers' industrial engineering students have already successfully developed, designed, and produced these products and more for their final projects.

Meeting at MEET

Ruth, Romaine, and Ramone, a close-knit trio, met as first-year students when they attended the weekly meetings of the Minority Engineering Educational Task (MEET), the Rutgers student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).

All three found their way to Rutgers through the society’s aggressive high school outreach efforts. Ruth participated in programs sponsored by the organization during her junior and senior years at Willingboro High School and, through the society, was connected to the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund, which provides access and support for highly motivated students who find the costs of higher education prohibitive.

Romaine and Ramone were “discovered” by Donald Brown, the associate dean for student development at the School of Engineering, who was a frequent customer at Mount Holly Train Stop Island Tastes, the Jamaican restaurant owned by their mother, where they both worked while attending Rancocas Valley Regional High School. He got to know the boys and persuaded them to participate in the NSBE outreach program at their school.

Although Romaine was already leaning toward a career in engineering—the twins’ father is an electrical engineer—the field was a bit of an about face for Ramone. “I didn’t want to do engineering,” he recalls. “I was going to be an obstetrics nurse. I wanted to help deliver babies.

Returning the Favor

All three say that the networking and mentoring opportunities that they were able to access through MEET and the School of Engineering’s Office of Student Development have been invaluable as they have pursued internships. Ruth was offered her first internship at Johnson & Johnson as a result of contacts that she made at MEET’s national conference. And Romaine’s first foot in the door at Procter & Gamble was a result of being selected as a mentee by an executive at the company who is both a Rutgers and a MEET alum. Romaine says that the Office of Student Development gave him the tools he needed to overcome his shyness and become a better internship candidate. “They coached me on how to talk to recruiters and go to career fairs and present myself,” he says.

Because they believe that their involvement in MEET has been instrumental in their success, each has held several leadership positions within the organization during their time at Rutgers. Community service chair during his first year, Ramone later served as treasurer, internal vice president, and finally the president of the organization. Romaine served on the executive board as both internal and external vice president. “Those positions taught me leadership skills,” he says.

Ruth also did stints on MEET’s executive board, coordinating much of the group’s community outreach efforts, first as the group’s Big Brother/Big Sister coordinator, and later as both the technical excellence chair and the community service chair.

Great Resumes

Ruth, Romaine, and Ramone have all completed or are in the process of completing multiple internships that have provided them with valuable work experience. And that experience has distinguished them from other candidates as they have searched for opportunities.

In fact, the three have constructed such impressive résumés during their time at Rutgers that, with graduation still two months away, each has already accepted a postgraduation position. Ruth has accepted a position in L’Oreal’s management development program. Romaine has accepted a position as a systems integration analyst with Accenture, a consulting firm based in New Jersey. And Ramone will become a group process engineer with Procter & Gamble in Pennsylvania.

Ruth says that there is a direct connection between her many successes and her decision to come to Rutgers. “The combination of the university, with all its resources, MEET, and the Engineering School’s Office of Student Development, has not only given me a career and a degree but has also provided me with the opportunity for personal growth and friendships that will last a lifetime.”