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CME Internships Help Beat ‘Brain Drain’ in Mississippi

By Erin Garrett

University of Mississippi

Junior Ole Miss mechanical engineering major Downing Koestler worked to improve production and quality during a summer internship at CITE Armored in Holly Springs. The internship was sponsored by the Robert M. Hearin Foundation to provide opportunities for students and smaller manufacturers in the state. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Eighteen students in the University of Mississippi’s Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence spent their summers solving real-world problems for Mississippi manufacturing companies.

Sponsored by a $200,000 Robert M. Hearin Foundation grant, the students interned at small-to-medium facilities with limited funding for summer internships.

“The support of the Hearin Foundation has provided an outlet to expose our students to the wealth of career options here in Mississippi while highlighting our smaller manufacturing firms which are so crucial to the economic health of our region,” said Scott Kilpatrick, CME executive director.

Downing Koestler, a junior mechanical engineering major from Oxford, worked at CITE Armored in Holly Springs. The company is a leading armored vehicle manufacturer.

“They asked me to take my knowledge and try to improve production and quality – basically give them my two cents,” Koestler said. “I was looking for areas where value wasn’t being added to the company. 

“Like, if there was a truck sitting there not being worked on at all; that’s not good. Or if people have to walk across the facility to do something and then walk back – that takes five minutes. So that’s 10 minutes lost that you’re not doing any work.”

Koestler said that CME courses helped him “have an eye for that sort of thing.” He provided his recommendations to the company for their consideration.

“Armored vehicles are very large, so it took time to capture everything that was happening at one time,” he said. “There were a lot of moving parts and different problems to solve every day.”

After finishing his freshman year, Griffin Hollander never expected to land an internship at CITE Armored. But then he found himself leading their negotiations on a potential deal with a Fortune 500 company. 

“I’m really proud because I feel like not a lot of freshmen get this opportunity,” said Hollander, an accounting major from Oxford. “I was able to help facilitate a deal that would be a really big change for the company – and what I think is a step in the right direction.”

Hollander also conducted an inventory study to assess the accuracy of the firm’s inventory management system, among other tasks.

“The actual purchasing of products really stuck out to me, and the acquisition of vendors and suppliers and things of that nature is really, for lack of a better word, fun,” he said. “It’s exciting to go in and negotiate with steel suppliers. 

“Also, experiencing the accounting that I signed up for in my major has been a great opportunity for me.”

Koestler and Hollander helped the company accomplish specific goals, said Jason Reel, general manager of CITE Armored.

“Downing has helped me with several different time studies, creating work instructions and helping create quality documents,” Reel said. “Griffin has helped mainly with getting our inventory manageable. We have a fairly new system called Fishbowl. Griffin has been a big help finding ways to use the system more efficiently.”

Karson Wardell, a senior mechanical engineering major from Laurel, worked in Clinton at Taylor Power Systems Inc., an industrial generator manufacturer.

“They make anything from small residential generators to generators they use in oil fields,” Wardell said. “Each generator is custom, where the client has a plethora of options for how each unit is manufactured. A unit may never be made again, so it’s a complete learning curve each time.”

Wardell conducted several time studies, wrote work instructions for new assembly operations, worked to improve production flow and implemented quality checks.

“This internship gave me a rare opportunity to go into a company with the freedom to voice my ideas,” he said.

Steve Duke, director of Taylor Power, praised Wardell’s manufacturing knowledge and ability to acclimate to any assignment he was given.

“Karson was invited to some of our weekly production team meetings and was fully prepared with reporting on his work and on his findings,” Duke said. “Karson showed up to work daily ready to go, had a positive attitude and dressed in a manner that portrays him as a leader. 

“The best compliment was his supervisor telling me that Karson is the type of project leader and worker that we need on the Taylor Power team.”

Though the internships ended Aug. 11, many students will have to access to more opportunities at their companies. Taylor Power has offered Wardell a job following graduation. 

“As many organizations around the state are working to slow down the trend of ‘brain drain’ here in Mississippi, we are seeing the CME students that take part in this program not only gain applicable job experience through these internships, but many of the host industries are extending additional opportunities for extended co-op experiences or even full-time employment offers upon graduation,” Kilpatrick said.


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