An Illinois Valley Community College project has been selected as a finalist and will compete for a prestigious, national award.

Making Industry Meaningful In College (MIMIC) is one of ten Bellwether Award Finalists and will be honored at the Community College Futures Assembly Jan. 30 at the University of Florida, Orlando. The Bellwether Award recognizes cutting-edge, innovative programs that are leading community colleges into the future.

The MIMIC project places students in engineering design, electronics and business into teams to design, prototype, manufacture, market and sell products.

Developed by Dorene Perez and Alice Steljes, MIMIC was first offered in 1995. Perez is the program coordinator of computer-aided design/computer-aided engineering, and Steljes, now retired, was an accounting instructor.

"We could see that our students needed workplace skills, like teamwork, communication and problem solving," Perez said. "So we decided to have our students work together as they would in a business or industry, and we could provide training in the skills they needed."

Today, each MIMIC team, or "company" as they are called, includes students in engineering design, electronics, and a variety of business fields such as marketing, accounting and information systems. Manufacturing students serve as consultants, and students in a number of other fields, such as graphic design and technical writing, assist the MIMIC teams.

Current MIMIC instructors are Jim Gibson, program coordinator of electronics; Rick Serafini, program coordinator of accounting; and Perez. Serafini has been with MIMIC since 2009; Bob Reese, the program coordinator of business management and marketing, was the MIMIC business instructor in 2008 and 2009.

Gibson, who joined the project in 1996, credits MIMIC for improving the IVCC electronics program: "MIMIC has brought a sense of design and quality reflection to the [electronics] program that has made the program strong," he said. "When students come back and talk with me about the time they invested here, they talk about MIMIC and how much they learned."

Gibson, Perez, and IVCC board trustee David Mallery, who participated in MIMIC as a student, will give a presentation on the project at the Community College Futures Assembly. A winner will be determined following presentations by the ten finalists in the instructional programs and services category.

Since its inception, MIMIC has been recognized as an innovative project. Perez explained that MIMIC appears to be the first community college project to place technical and business students into teams to design, manufacture and sell products.

In its first year, MIMIC received a Connections Award for Innovative Curriculum Integration from the Illinois State Board of Education. Over the years, MIMIC instructors have given presentations at a number of national conferences and at the American Society for Engineering Education International Colloquium at Tsinghua University in Beijing, People’s Republic of China.

A paper about the MIMIC project was named Best Paper Overall at a national conference, the first paper from a community college to win the award. The paper was co-authored by Perez, Gibson and communications instructor Rose Marie Lynch.

In 2005, IVCC received a grant of $230,000 from the National Science Foundation to make the MIMIC project the focal point or capstone for two-year technical programs. As part of the grant, the MIMIC instructors wrote a manual to assist teachers in organizing similar projects. That manual and a student guidebook are available on the MIMIC website at www.ivcc.edu/mimic.

MIMIC was first nominated for the Bellwether Award in 2010, 15 years after its inception. Commenting on how such a well-established program is still being recognized as trend setting and innovative, Perez said "MIMIC continues to evolve, responding to our students’ needs, workplace needs and what we learn."

"When Alice [Steljes] and I decided to try this idea, it seemed simple. Sometimes simple ideas turn out to be the best."

This fall, IVCC received a second Bellwether Award nomination for edible car contests.