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UTPA's TMAC helps bring global recognition to a Valley company
Contact: Amanda Perez, Intern 381-2741
Posted: 03/23/2010
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Since its start in 1998, the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC) at The University of Texas-Pan American has seen its internship program grow and produce well-qualified students who have gone on to land high paying positions with top notch companies across the nation.

Under the division of Academic Affairs, TMAC works closely with manufacturing businesses throughout the Rio Grande Valley in training employees to improve daily operations. Their latest relationship was developed with Temple-Inland, a paper board and box manufacturing company in Edinburg. According to Temple-Inland, it was with TMAC's assistance that they recently received the prestigious Six Sigma and Business Improvement Award, a recognition that is being attributed in large part to the work of two former interns from UTPA's College of Science and Engineering - Magdiel Fajardo from Guadalajara, Mexico, who graduated in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering, and Oscar Prieto, a graduate student in engineering from Torreó, Mexico.

"Our initial motivation for the internship program was to provide services to small and medium size manufacturers, but the program has evolved for students," said Dr. Miguel Gonzalez, associate dean for the College of Science and Engineering. "This recognition is a tremendous tribute to the value of the program."

As engineering students, Fajardo and Prieto interned at Temple-Inland through TMAC in 2009. The internships were made possible through the partnership that TMAC has with UTPA's College of Science and Engineering.

"Dr. Gonzalez provides us with a list of students who are interested in training," said Oscar Barrenechea, TMAC manufacturing specialist. "This is a very good competitive advantage when they graduate and are seeking a job."

"TMAC provides high-end trainings that are very expensive for companies to provide," Gabriela Sosa, TMAC business marketing manager said. "Therefore, this is a great advantage for currently enrolled engineering students who want hands-on experience."

During their internship, Fajardo and Prieto were trained and supervised by TMAC and required to work on projects that had an economic impact in the South Texas area. Both students were ultimately assigned to Temple-Inland where they worked to improve safety and maintenance practices, employee turnover, delivery and lead times for the third largest producer of paper board and boxes in North America.

According to Temple-Inland's production manager, Neal Stuber, and general manager, Randy Phares, on-time delivery was raised from 92 to 98 percent. In addition, lead times were reduced from six weeks to an average of five days, employee turnovers decreased from 45 percent in 2007 to 15 percent in 2009 and their poor safety record improved from an incident rate of 8.4 in 2007 to 0 in 2009.

"We have accomplished a lot, but we are not where we need to be," Stuber said. "We look forward to helping the University and the University helping us so that we may both prosper."

Phares and Stuber agree that this has been a complete team effort from everyone at the company, their suppliers, the university and UTPA interns.

"I can definitely characterize Magdiel and Oscar as self-starters. They had initiative and were willing to learn," Stuber said. "What I found most striking was that they were able to come in and encourage people who already worked here to open up to new and different ideas."

Fajardo, who is currently pursuing a master's degree in divinity at The Concordia Theological Seminary in Indiana, said he is grateful that Temple-Inland is recognizing his and Prieto's efforts.

"Working alongside machine operators and my supervisors was an experience that allowed me to see for myself how I wanted to do my job," Fajardo said. "These professionals work hard everyday and taught me to put effort into my work and enjoy it like they do."

Prieto is an international student working on his master's and thesis at UTPA. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechatronics engineering from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey Campus Laguna in México.

"TMAC is the perfect link between students and a company," Prieto said. "They gave me the opportunity to apply what I learned in school to real problems in the manufacturing field, allowing me to gain experience."

Approximately five months after Fajardo and Prieto completed their internships, Temple-Inland was presented the Six Sigma Business Improvement Award at The Global Six Sigma and Business Improvement Award Ceremony in Orlando, Fla. Stuber said he is pleased being able to mention TMAC and UTPA as partners for this award.

"This is a global recognition for the direction and best practices implemented by Temple-Inland," Stuber said. "The reason we won this award was that resource constraints inhibit us from employing our best practices, but the partnership with UTPA was an effective means to overcome that limitation."

Sosa and Barrenechea agreed that support for this program is a definite win-win experience for all those involved.

"The interns provide local industries with technical support and bring new experiences to the workplace, while gaining knowledge that transforms them into better-prepared employees," Barrenechea said.

Students who have completed training with TMAC have been hired by major companies such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, IBM and Dell.

"All of us involved are very proud of our students," Gonzalez said. "We are absolutely looking forward to making sure that our students continue to shine and that we give them the tools they need to be successful."