Peter Kaufman of the Marketing department and Lou Reifschneider of the Technology department are the recipients of the Outstanding Team Research Award. The award is presented for regional, national and/or international visible research that contributes to multiple professions and/or disciplines. One member of the team must have three years of academic experience at Illinois State, and the team must consist of at least two different campus units.

Reifschneider and Kaufman began collaborating on a market research project in spring 2010. Kaufman’s marketing students conducted market research for bio-based plastic materials. Reifschneider’s technology students advised the teams on the feasibility of using various bio-based materials. This inter-departmental project exposed students to the importance of working in cross-functional teams to address a complex task such as product development.

Their findings, published in the Journal of Sustainability Education, illustrated some of the challenges and benefits of interdisciplinary learning in sustainability education. In fall 2010, Reifschneider, Kaufman, two other Illinois State faculty and students in a temporary interdisciplinary studies course teamed up to consult with retailers regarding the benefits of converting to low energy lighting. The primary objective of the course was civic engagement for the purpose of helping retailers learn about the possible cost savings of converting to compact fluorescent lighting. The cross-functional aspect was the integration of environmental science with product sales. By working together, student teams were able to educate and persuade retailers to implement an energy-saving lighting technology.

The collaboration continued in fall 2011 as students from their engineering and MBA programs addressed another product design challenge. MBA students developed a marketing plan for a product designed to have green market appeal. Engineering technology students specified the material composition and estimated the manufacturing costs. This cross-function design approach is common in industry and brings an authentic, market-focused perspective when analyzing market opportunities.

The collaborative projects undertaken by Reifschneider and Kaufman demonstrate successes in breaking down the usual silos of their individual disciplines and collaborating in an authentic learning environment to address real-world problems. Further, students learn practical applied research skills that go beyond what they could do in a single discipline. Teaming helps foster a greater understanding of the need for and impact of cross-functional design, an essential in business and industry. The findings also benefited businesses that participate in the study as well as a broader audience of educators exposed to their work through peer-reviewed publications.