University of Minnesota Partnership Helps Tundra Compete for Top Talent

Senior Design Program mentorship exposes students to real-world challenges while proving to be a strong recruitment tool.



For more information contact:
Bruce Bohnen, Head of Research & Development


St. Paul, Minn. — Tundra® Companies, a growth-oriented materials science business, knows what it’s like to be David to the Twin Cities’ Goliaths. With the Twin Cities boasting 17 Fortune 500 companies, competing for engineering and technical talent can be tough.

“We’ve always wanted to attract like-minded people ― employees who contribute with talent, drive and curiosity,” explained Tundra CEO Kurt Heikkila. “Our business is about what’s possible when innovative technology and materials combine to produce new product performance capabilities. To be on the cutting-edge with things that haven’t been tried and aren’t yet commercialized, you need to have both a technical and entrepreneurial appetite.”

For the second year, Tundra has committed to a unique program for senior students majoring in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota. First started 15 years ago, the Senior Design Program is a semester-long course that allows students to apply what they learn in the lab and classroom toward tackling real-world technical assignments for regional companies, working directly with their staff. Tundra’s commitment to programs such as these has now spanned five projects, mentoring student teams in Industrial Engineering at the Twin Cities campus and Chemical Engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth in previous years.

Tundra’s Head of Research and Development, Bruce Bohnen, sees these programs as equally beneficial to all parties involved. “We’re in the same room with 3M, Medtronic, General Mills, Valspar and others — talking about our company and our technology,” Bohnen said. “It’s great for emerging talent so see our company alongside these perennially sought-after employers. We also enjoy working directly with a team of students on unique assignments — and I can tell you that the learning often goes both ways.”

This year, Bohnen and his Tundra colleagues designed a Senior Design Program challenge around a highly loaded glass-filled thermoplastic composite material Tundra developed. Eklipse Structural Reinforced Composites have unique application within the building products industry. Due to a very high glass-fiber content, the composites have unique physical properties that are suitable for use in the manufacture of products with high-strength requirements, such as home siding and rigid pipe.

“We’re asking the students to use the known property characteristics of the Eklipse composite to design a cost-effective siding,” Bohnen said. “What’s new for many of them is that they need to focus not only on the technical and performance aspects of their design, but also the economics.”

Since January, a team of four students has been briefed and mentored on the Tundra challenge. At the end of April, the team will give its final presentation with analysis and recommendations to the mentor companies and University professors.

“Our graduating seniors are highly sought after,” explained Professor Russell Holmes, Lead Instructor for the Senior Design Program and Director of Graduate Studies in Materials Studies and Engineering at the University of Minnesota. “We’re very proud of our program and we feel that participating companies like Tundra prepare participants well for what the real work on the job will be like.”

In past years, Tundra student recommendations have produced some remarkable insights. In 2014, a team of six women from the University of Minnesota Duluth tackled a Tundra 3D printing challenge by recommending printer, not material, changes. Their information was shared with the printer manufacturer, and the approach also won them first place in the University’s poster session competition.

“We truly feel fortunate to have met and worked with so many bright students, and our work has extended beyond these programs,” Bohnen said. “We’ve also brought in many University students as summer interns, and since beginning these efforts, nine have become full-time Tundra employees. It has become an invaluable resource for helping us compete with the larger companies for the best talent available.”

About Tundra Companies

Founded in 2004 and based in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, Tundra is a materials science company that develops new materials with enhanced performance characteristics for a wide variety of applications. A proprietary coating process uniquely controls the interaction of particles and polymers, resulting in high-value materials that are lighter or heavier, stronger, denser, safer or more flexible.

Tundra equips businesses with differentiating material performance characteristics that can replace existing materials, enable new solutions, open new market opportunities, improve cost efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

Tundra offers a variety of material platforms based on its proprietary coating technology, each of which is optimized with performance properties for specific applications and delivered as pelletized material that is ready for use in a variety of manufacturing processes. Those can include injection molding, blow molding, rotational molding, compression molding, extruding or 3D printing.