New WSU center to bridge engineering-English ‘gap’ for area companies

Hernan Olivas, president and chief executive of O’Neil & Associates Inc., who will help preside over his company’s business and education center that will open at Wright State University Sept. 19. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

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Hernan Olivas, president and chief executive of O’Neil & Associates Inc., who will help preside over his company’s business and education center that will open at Wright State University Sept. 19. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

Companies like Miamisburg’s O’Neil & Associates Inc. need employees who can bridge the gap that sometimes exists between engineers and those whose specialty is communication.

Technical writing needs to be more than technical. It needs to be clear. That’s where the “O’Neil Center for Research Communication” — set to open at Wright State University Sept. 19 — comes in.

Headed by Brandy Foster — who majored in English as a WSU undergrad but today is a lecturer in Wright State’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering — the center will offer writing, editing and communication services for engineering firms and other clients.

The new educational center — housed at the WSU Neuroscience Engineering Collaboration Building — will also train students to be the kinds of employees needed by O’Neil and companies like it.

“We’re focused primarily on helping researchers in any field — whether it’s a STEM field or a social science — communicate their work to a variety of audiences,” Foster said. “End-users, decision-makers, funding agencies, the general public.”

O’Neil’s whole business is technical communication — product support, taking vehicles and machines apart, putting them back together and precisely documenting how others can do the same.

Hernan Olivas, president and chief executive of O’Neil, hopes the center answers a challenge his company has long had.

“As an engineer, you know how things work … but you can’t necessarily communicate that properly to someone who doesn’t have your background,” Olivas said.

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He employs English majors, engineers and others of diverse backgrounds.

“You have to bridge that gap somehow,” Olivas said. “Hands-on experience is good, but there is some training to it, and that’s where the center will support us.”

O’Neil, based on Byers Road, is investing $675,000 into the center, plus assorted stand-up costs, an investment he and Foster said was approved by both the company’s board of directors and the university’s board of trustees.

Foster said other university offices will be able to tap into the center’s expertise, as well as clients off campus.

“We’ll be generating revenue,” Foster said.

Olivas credits Foster with the idea for the center, and emphasizes that it wasn’t created by chance. O’Neil needed a recruiting mechanism stronger and more lasting than a student job fair. In an interview with this news outlet in July, Olivas said that while O’Neil has a strong business nationally, he wants to elevate its profile locally.

“I’m looking for something more than just having a job fair,” Olivas said.

The CEO also wants to honor his predecessor. Former O’Neil President Robert Heilman died in November 2016, leaving Olivas in charge. A Robert J. Heilman fellow — a graduate research student awarded a fellowship — will have a home at the center.

“That’s very important to me, recognition for Bob,” Olivas said.

A 70-year-old company, O’Neil enjoys a network of national customers, doing business with the Air Force and Marines in Georgia, the Army in Michigan and other customers in Wisconsin and Oregon. But Olivas has said he wants to strengthen or re-establish connections with local customers and institutions, especially Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

And students who study and work at the new center can expect to interact with O’Neil employees on company projects. The center will be a home to English, business, art, graphics and engineering students, Foster said.

“All these disciplines come together, or add something to effective communication,” Olivas said.

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