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rupy sawhney

ORNL, Y-12, Pantex Benefit from ISE

By David Goddard. Photography by Shawn Poynter.

In the fall of 2011, Rupy Sawhney had a problem.

Sawhney, the Heath Fellow in Business and Engineering and Professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, had been tasked with creating a series of classes that employees at federal facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Y-12, and Pantex, among others, could take from the spaces in Oak Ridge.

The catch?

“We want you to do it within the next month,” Sawhney recalls being told. “Thankfully, Lee Martin and Greg Sedrick were able to help me pull something together, and we were able to get final approval one week before classes were due to start.”

Martin serves as a professor of practice and director of the college’s Engineering Entrepreneurship program, while Sedrick was at UTSI at the time.

The goal was for employees at companies in the Oak Ridge area to be able to improve their knowledge of systems and business management without having to travel off-site to UT’s campus.

The class itself is project-based, bringing in real-world tasks or challenges from companies for the students to solve.

In this way, the companies gain buy-in for allowing their employees to take the classes because they are solving problems applicable to their actual day-to-day operations.

The ideas we tackle in class are thought up at the highest levels. They can be from any number of applications, but are always related to some problem, task, or job at hand.”

—Rupy Sawhney

He added that one critical aspect of the class is that it helps participants learn to prioritize needs, create new solutions, and explore concepts of better design, planning, and reliability.

Participants can also receive PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) certification, something Sawhney said incentivizes workers because it often leads to higher salaries.

Sawhney noted that they’ve now had 135 students take part in the courses, adding that ISE is one of the most rapidly growing fields represented at the Oak Ridge facilities.