With classrooms closed, business professionals worldwide turn to UB TCIE

A Zoom photo of UB TCIE's Root Cause Analysis and Corrective Action course. .

Brian Gerdes of Georgia, upper top left, participates in the Root Cause Analysis and Corrective Action course.

Professionals beyond Western New York discover merits of the engineering school’s online programs during pandemic shutdown

By Tracy Puckett

Release Date: July 20, 2020

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“The cost was right and it was a relatively low investment. ”
Kyle Phillips , Site quality manager
Orchid Orthopedic Solutions in Chelsea, Michigan

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Brian Gerdes is a quality manager at manufacturer Roper Pump Company in Commerce, Georgia. Across the globe in India, Mohd Asif Gandhi educates engineering degree candidates in their final year at Anjuman-I-Islam’s Kalsekar Technical Campus.

What they have in common: They and their respective organizations are taking advantage of online professional education options while the traditional classroom setting is off limits. Like tens of thousands of others around the world, they are finding the knowledge they need at the University at Buffalo, through its Center for Industrial Effectiveness (UB TCIE) programs focused on business improvement and technology topics.

In some cases, the educational opportunity would have been out of reach if not for COVID-19.

Kyle Phillips doubts his company – Orchid Orthopedic Solutions in Chelsea, Michigan – would have sent employees across state lines to attend a one-day classroom-based training. But when the health pandemic influenced UB TCIE to move a handful of planned courses to live delivery through Zoom, enrolling became an option.

“The cost was right and it was a relatively low investment,” says Phillips, site quality manager. The Buffalo native previously received UB TCIE training in ISO quality standards while employed at Greatbatch. Capitalizing on the Intro to FMEA course “just made sense,” he says.

Phillips views the course as a refresher to help bolster the company’s use of process failure mode effects analysis (PFMEA) for identifying and evaluating potential failures.

“We currently use them but don’t have a strong program around them,” he says, explaining the PFMEA tool is important from a regulation standpoint. And by consistently scanning for risk areas, it makes it easy to determine priorities and resource allocation.

About 550 miles away in Georgia, Gerdes has been grappling with a few projects. His mentor – an employee of sister company Viatran Corporation in Tonawanda – recommended the Root Cause Analysis and Corrective Action course after experiencing its value firsthand.  

Gerdes had difficulty finding a similar course offered locally. The closest to home would have been an in-person, 3-day training inclusive of other topics impertinent to his current needs. The price was approximately four times as much.

UB TCIE’s 8-hour online program, held over two days and incorporating hands-on exercises managed through breakout rooms, is emboldening Gerdes to destroy a common perception that he is the company’s “quality police.” He says that through the “5 Whys” tool, he will insist that all departments impacted by a problem join the conversation and be part of determining the solution.  

Competitive pricing for sought-after topics is one factor driving an uptick of students who reside outside of Western New York. Extra leisure time that the pandemic has afforded for some is another.

Take Gandhi, the assistant professor, for example. He regularly updates his knowledge through online courses. The shutdowns have provided many more hours to pursue self-development.

He discovered UB’s offerings through his institute’s subscription to Coursera. Via UB TCIE’s creation and production, the university offers 22 massive open online courses (MOOCs) on the learning platform. The earliest debuted in January 2017.

Enrollments have skyrocketed since March. The total for the four MOOCs in a series about energy, alone, grew almost five times to top 77,000. Added together, enrollments for the 22 courses have more than doubled over the last four months, bringing the cumulative tally to approximately 316,000.      

The largest growth stems from India, as well as organizational subscription plans like Gandhi’s. Of the three courses from the Digital Manufacturing and Design Technology series he completed, he appreciates the easy-to-grasp presentation of content, industry expert interviews and reference materials. A new understanding of Industry 4.0 elements will aid him when he returns to instruction.   

Gandhi also values the chance to learn from universities across the world, relishing the “different thought processes and different styles of execution and latest practices” they evoke.

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