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Student news - Student-led redesign facilitates teamwork among state legislators

Wisconsin Capitol

Wisconsin Capitol (large image)

In the spring, University of Wisconsin-Madison industrial and systems engineering student Matt Myers found himself on his hands and knees crawling around a state Capitol caucus room, taking measurements and diagramming the tables and chairs.

His efforts were part of a voluntary project by a group of industrial and systems engineering students to redesign the room. The project resulted in an elegantly simple U-shape arrangement of tables and chairs that will better facilitate teamwork and discussion among legislators.

The project began when a state representative contacted industrial and systems engineering lecturer Terry Mann, who then assembled a team of students to work with State Representative Kelda Roys (D-Madison) and her aides.

Before the project, the room was arranged like a typical classroom with all the Democratic legislators facing the party leaders seated at the head of the room. The legislators wanted a new arrangement, especially as budget discussions sometimes kept them in the caucus room for more than 18 hours a day, but they were too busy to tackle the problem on their own.

The student team, led by Myers, approached the redesign with industrial engineering principles and created a variety of room mockups with Microsoft Office Visio.

“We relied on our experiences as students sitting in classroom environments, and we had a sense for what works best for doing group work,” says Myers, who worked with students Ben Borsuk, Mark Cigich, Jake Gafner, Ji Shun Liu, Joe Madden and Arjun Mishra.

The challenge for the team was to develop an inclusive design that discouraged small side conversations and avoided a physical focus on party leadership. The U-shape design accomplished both goals and was quickly accepted by legislators.

“I've had so many representatives, including our leadership, thank me for finding you and praise the new setup,” writes Roys in a letter to the team. “I can only image how much more trying our budget discussions might have been if we had still been using our old arrangement.”

For student Mark Cigich, the redesign was a worthwhile addition to his classes and homework.

“It was a simple project, but it had an important feeling since we were directly helping legislators be better able to do their work,” he says.