High school, the time for green belts

By Michael Hughes
IIE managing editor

Much of industrial engineering’s image problem comes from a lack of knowledge. If people know anything about the profession at all, they probably think IEs work in the dank, dark, dirty factories of yore.

I’m an example. Prior to starting at IIE in 2009, I couldn’t have crafted one sentence about industrial engineering.

NavicentHealth and Mount De Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia, are tackling that lack of knowledge by training high school seniors as lean green belts for healthcare. Ten earned their certificates this spring, and the private Catholic school already has more applicants for next year’s program than it knows what to do with.

That’s a far cry from the students’ initial reaction, Mary Pat Dadisman, the school’s assistant head of school and dean of students, told me. The students wanted to play “doctors and nurses” and looked askance at process improvement. But once they started shadowing black belts and following projects at Georgia’s second largest hospital system, they changed their tune.

“They’re coming back telling me all the time not just what they did that particular day but about the lean projects that they’re becoming part of, and they’re getting to see the results of the projects or the work that’s in progress,” she said. “They are definitely focused on that aspect of it now. They’ve come full circle.”

NavicentHealth is an IIE qualified training provider. Chief quality officer Stephen Mayfield, who used to be an IIE employee, said the qualified training program offers at least three major benefits.

It extends IIE’s knowledge and membership, putting tools in the hands of people who are in the midst of or, in the case of the Mount de Sales students, starting to think about their careers. And it helps organizations develop cultures of robust process improvement – NavicentHealth already has graduated 420 lean green belts for healthcare and 15 black belts.

And last, but definitely not least, it gets the next generation excited about careers in industrial engineering. Although it’s a small academy, Mount de Sales has had four National Merit Award winners, and the 10 seniors in the program – Madison Baima, Runyu Cai, Anna Garcia, Catherine Gumarin, Maria Maiorana, Emily McKowen, Michaela Murphy, Ashton Pearson, Laura Smoak and Morgan Toomer – have to be some of the youngest lean green belts for healthcare certified by IIE, Mayfield said.

The idea came from Ninfa Saunders, president and CEO of Navicent Health. A black belt herself, Saunders awarded the certificates during a ceremony held at the academy.

“As pioneers of this program, people know you are a green belt by your work, how you use critical thinking skills, by the decisions that you make, and how you navigate the things you do every day,” she told the students.

Click here for more on Mount de Sales Academy students and their green belt training in the Front Line section in May’s Industrial Engineer magazine.