Marquette professor teaches to learn from past mistakes

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:57 am

Mark Polczynski, engineering director of Marquette’s engineering management program, recently launched, “When good products go bad,” a website filled with his students’ reliability failure reports on man-made disasters that have occurred in recent years.
“It seems, in the wake of the BP oil spill disaster, more and more people are interested in the economic impact, and what we can learn from disasters that came about because of human action,” Polczynski said. “Instead of having them just turn in a report and do a presentation I decided that some of the better ones could serve as resources for academics and the business community to learn from.”
New York Times writer, William Broad, also recently wrote a story, “Taking Lessons From What Went Wrong.”  His story also indicates that in many cases, disasters serve as opportunity for innovation.
The Marquette engineering students were told to choose a failure/reliability disaster and analyze and assess the economic, environmental and social impact of the disaster, Polczynski said.
“In the end, to a degree, they are required to find identify the root cause of the disaster,” he said. “However, my program is engineering management. It’s really not focused on mechanical engineering. What I have learned, and what a lot of my students have found is that a lot of times it is management issues that lead to these gigantic failures.”
Polczynski’s students have researched and written about disasters like the Chernobyl Oil Spill, The London Train Crash, the station night club fire, the I-35 bridge collapse and local disasters like the Miller Park roof collapse and the collapse of the Hyatt Regency Hotel Walkway.
“Rather than just doing a basic report, I thought maybe someone in the community can learn from these too,” Polczynski said. “I wanted to share that.”
The disaster reports can be viewed at

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