CME Seniors Gain Practical Experience at Gulf Coast Industry

Students solved real-world problems for a week at Keith Huber Corp. in Gulfport

Twenty students from the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence spent a week solving real-life problems at Keith Huber Corp. in Gulfport. The event was part of an experiential course for seniors. Photo courtesy Tyler Biggs/CME

OXFORD, Miss. – Twenty University of Mississippi accountancy, business and engineering students got a rare opportunity to solve real-world problems when they participated recently in an experiential learning course on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The students spent almost a week at Keith Huber Corp. in Gulfport as part of Manufacturing 450: Practical Problem Solving. The students began the week with a lecture that ranged from fundamental problem-solving techniques to more complex methods that are used by companies such as Ford Motor Co., Caterpillar and Toyota. The classroom time finished up with techniques used by industries to avoid problems in product and process designs.

The students then were divided into three teams, with each team given a quality or operational problem to solve on the factory floor. The teams worked with Keith Huber team members, mentors and managers to solve the assigned problem, using an industry technique known as the 8-D Problem Solving Method.

The course finished with each team making a presentation of their problem solutions to the industry’s executive team.

“The experiential learning class allows the students to practice humility by working with all levels of the operation’s employees and requires collaborative teamwork of the students,” said Eddie Carr, professor of practice in the university’s Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence. “Additionally, students have the opportunity to build presentation skills by presenting their team’s project to industry executives.”

Being nearly five hours from campus, this important area of Mississippi isn’t always associated with hosting an Ole Miss class, said Tyler Biggs, CME associate director of external operations.

“The course was a unique opportunity that, to our knowledge, is not afforded to students at other universities,” he said. “The interdisciplinary nature of our program allows students to step outside the traditional classroom and gain practical experience that will prepare them to be leaders in the modern economy.

Students said that they were grateful for the opportunity.

“At Keith Huber, we were able to apply what we learned in lecture to actual production processes, improving our understanding of the concepts and increasing the efficiency of Huber’s production,” said Ward Winstead, a senior mechanical engineering major from Gulfport.

“The Harrison County Economic Development Council and Keith Huber team not only provided their time and resources while we were on site, but they treated us to an afternoon boating excursion to celebrate our time with them! These experiential learning classes are a showcase of the connections the university shares with companies across the state.”

Hollie Arnsdorff, a chemical engineering and physics major from Knoxville, Tennessee, noted that in just three-and-a-half days, the experience helped her become more confident in her abilities to work in a manufacturing environment.

“Perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of a career in engineering and manufacturing is implementing procedures with an emphasis on improving safety, quality and workplace conditions,” she said. “During our time at Keith Huber, my team and I were able to implement a new procedure achieving those things.

“I have gained valuable experience that will help me as I seek my first full-time career following graduation.”

Jamie Holder, chief operating officer at Keith Huber, praised the students” creativity.

“The students from Ole Miss demonstrated exceptional cognitive thinking skills when presented with the problems our team came up with,” Holden said. “Their analysis followed by their solutions were superb. Everyone involved at Keith Huber was very impressed.”

Biggs said the benefits of experiential classes are twofold for students.

“First, these classes prepare our students to enter any aspect of the modern manufacturing industry and feel like they can contribute,” he said. “Second, it is also helpful because this is the type of experience companies are looking for when hiring.”

Keith Huber Corp. builds industrial vacuum and pumper trucks, and has become the country’s largest independent manufacturer of these vacuum units.