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Olli, the self-driving vehicle by Local Motors

A Systems Thinking Approach

Last fall, students from the Integrated Business and Engineering program (IBEP) teamed up with Local Motors to design a bus stop kiosk for Olli, a self-driving vehicle. Here, sophomore Frenando Blevins reflects on his experience.

One of the many great things about IBEP is how it cultivates an environment for business and engineering students to work together. We don’t just sit and take the same classes; we have intentional activities and discussions that help everyone to understand each other’s perspectives. This particular class was Problem Solving and Systems Thinking with Dr. Rupy Sawhney, and these concepts proved vital for the kiosk project.

It was our first time partnering business and engineering students for a task, but even with our significant differences, especially in regards to our strengths, we were able to expand what we could achieve and create.

Frenando Blevins

I noticed there were generally two different mindsets: The engineering students asked “how do we solve this problem?” and the business students asked “how can we make the best solution possible?” In a way, these mindsets are the same, they just come from different angles. I now have a new perspective not only on working with business students, but with all people.

Engaging in this experience with a company made it that much more meaningful and useful. It helped me understand what business professionals expect and how they typically operate. For example, managers do not have the time to hold your hand and guide you every step of the way, so once you are given an assignment, you need to know where to start.

In class, I learned to think of systems thinking as a mindset. Dr. Sawhney challenged us to put it to practice in our personal lives, and from doing that I began to understand how to go about solving any problem, whether personal or professional.

This strategy of identifying the stakeholders and then finding the root cause of their problem will be instrumental in how we handle problems for the rest of our lives. It proved pivotal for the project, and as a result, all the project groups were successful in creating effective and creative solutions. Local Motors is even considering using some of our ideas in the actual kiosk.

My classmates and I are just sophomores, yet this project was the caliber of Senior Design. Even though the opportunity was somewhat intimidating, I felt well prepared to do what was expected of me. I am humbled just by having had the opportunity to engage in this project and help Local Motors. IBEP provides tremendous opportunities like this project that no student should miss out on, and I am honored to be part of this first cohort of brilliant students, faculty, and alumni.

Take a tour of the college with Frenando, and learn more about Olli.

The Kiosk Project

The kiosk project gave students a great opportunity to apply systems thinking to a real-world project and recognize that having a diverse team leads to more creative and better solutions.

This year, the students are working on a project for the Knoxville Business Support Network, a combination of five local nonprofit organizations in East Tennessee. They will interview the organizations and some of their clients to understand their goals and determine what makes each of them unique.

By applying what they’re learning with systems thinking, design thinking, and professionalism, the students will then design a consolidated website and possibly other materials that will allow potential clients to interact with and see events for all five organizations.

A key element of the program is exposing students to industry through real world projects, site visits, and external speakers. To contribute in any way, contact Mary Brow at

Learn about the Integrated Business and Engineering program.