Pawley Lean Institute

OU mentorship program pairs students with professors, industry lean experts

icon of a calendarJune 4, 2021

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OU mentorship program pairs students with professors, industry lean experts
Nick Kristock
While working at Fleece and Thank You, a non-profit organization founded by Oakland University alum Nick Kristock (pictured), OU students were able to reduce the duration of work in progress (WIP) in the quality control stage from 10 months to five months.

Since 2019, the Pawley Lean Institute and the Industrial Systems and Engineering (ISE) Department at Oakland University have been providing unique opportunities for OU students to work with mentors — including OU professors and industry lean experts — during their paid community service lean internships.

“A student not only assists a community service organization, but earns money while having both an academic learning opportunity with a hands on project directed by mentors with lean expertise,” said Dennis Wade, director of the Pawley Lean Institute. “It really is fascinating to see the strengths of our professors and industry partners work together.”

Professor Robert Van Til, chair of the ISE Department at Oakland University, agreed.

“It has really been fun watching our students grow under these mentorships,” he said. “The quality of the completed work and recommendations have been outstanding; the program has exceeded our expectations.”

During each community service lean internship, students are provided two mentors, one from Oakland University and one from an industry organization.

This semester, Dr. Jennifer Wenson, a visiting associate professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership, and Jabil Auburn Hills Plant Lean Six Sigma Manager Wesley King mentored OU students Alexander Perkins and Layla Bajoka at Fleece and Thank You while Bill Edwards, a special instructor in the ISE Department, and Matt Zayco of the Lean Enterprise Institute mentored OU students Kaitlyn Trombly and Noah Redoute at Humble Design.

“Mentoring on this specific lean project was seeing ahead for Layla and Alex what they could not see and aiding them on their journey to problem solve,” Wenson said. “It was a joy to tap into the power that Alex and Layla had and help them get to where they wanted to be.”

Students working at Fleece and Thank You were able to reduce the duration of work in progress (WIP) in the quality control stage from 10 months to five months.

“Having the mentors was hugely important and helpful in order to assist us as students in bridging the gap between classroom content and real world application,” Perkins said. “That was most helpful to us because it can be challenging applying what you learn in class when you experience it in the workplace for the first time.”

As part of their internships this semester, students working at Humble Design were able to improve the process for volunteers by creating a standard workflow that reduces set up time for the volunteers. Visual management was also implemented to easily identify departmental locations.

“As a student, working at Humble Design was an extremely rewarding experience bettering myself and the community I live in,” Redoute said. “The ability to gain industry experience while learning and aiding in the mission of Humble Design was worthwhile. I was able to better my skills in communication, organization, presentation and time management that will carry on in my future career aspirations.”

Trombly agreed, noting that mentorships “give students the opportunity to gain critical professional growth in their desired career while still in college.”

“This opportunity not only gives students real hands-on experience, but also teaches them lessons that they can use as a reference for future endeavors,” she said. “Professor Edwards and Matt Zayko’s guidance not only allowed me to be able to grow professionally and think about real-world problems in a more effective way, but also encouraged and helped me to grow as a person. Being able to not only learn about Humble Design and what they are doing to help the community, but to also be a part of it truly made my senior year at Oakland University special.”

According to Wade, the Pawley Lean Institute and ISE Department are already in the process of lining up students and community service lean projects for the fall of 2021.

“Mentors will again be a key element for successful project completion and student learning,” he said.

For more information about Oakland University’s Industrial and Systems Engineering programs, visit

To learn more about the Pawley Lean Institute, visit

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