Finding a Promising Career in Operations

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Samuel Kim

Sam Kim works in the most highly regulated industry—nuclear power. The company he works for provides the development, licensing, detailed engineering, project management, component manufacturing and startup support for commercial nuclear power plants around the world, and Sam’s day-to-day job is embedded in that specialized, precision manufacturing and detail-oriented operation. This demanding work is not for everyone, but it resonated with Sam. He enjoyed it enough to pursue his degree in Manufacturing Operations Management (MM) in order to augment his on-the-job experience. So far his pursuit of that degree has refined his understanding of the work that he does in the nuclear industry, and it's also earned him a promotion.

We sat down with Sam to ask him a few questions about his experience in the MM program before he graduates this spring.

Tell us about how you realized manufacturing interested you.

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SK: Going back to high school I was always strong in math and physics. My mind was well-suited for engineering, and that’s what I thought I would study in college. However, once I was attending classes at the U, I just couldn’t focus. To be honest, I don’t think I was ready for higher ed. I just wanted to work. So I left school and got a job at Westinghouse, the nuclear supplier I still work for today. At the time, I didn’t know anything about manufacturing, but I learned on the job. I was a documentation specialist in the quality assurance department, and my main duties were to generate all the required shipping documentation, label parts to be shipped, and oversee the packaging of equipment. Accurate documentation is very important.

I liked my job, and I liked the industry. It felt important, like the stakes were always high. But over time, I realized I wanted more leadership and responsibility. The only way to get that was to finish my degree, so I decided to go back to school to study manufacturing.

What appealed to you about the MM program?

SK: I really liked the program because I could do it at my own pace. The program courses, which are taught at night and online, seemed to be catering to people like me: someone who’s working and can’t get any further without a certificate or a degree. I really appreciated the flexibility, and the instructors themselves were part of that flexibility because they work full-time in the industry and understand the challenges their students face. 

Can you share a bit about the classes? Which one had the biggest impact on you?

SK: The MM classes were so relevant to me and my job. It validated the things I observed or did at my workplace and just backfilled information on how we operate as a business. The course on sustainable lean manufacturing was one of my favorites because the instructor was always engaged and provided real-world examples and activities. Improving processes and cutting waste is important because of how it impacts the business’s bottom line and the environment, which is also important as consumers are demanding that companies become greener by adopting sustainability practices. I also enjoyed this class because the lean manufacturing tools we learned were not only practical for a manufacturing facility but they were also very applicable in my personal life for getting organized.

All in all, I’d say the MM program has a nice mix of classes that cover the full spectrum of manufacturing operations while also developing leadership and management skills.

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We understand you earned a promotion already! Can you tell us about that?

SK: Yes! The MM degree helped me get a promotion to my current position as nuclear parts specialist. I’d say my new position is more customer-facing, and also allows me to work with other internal departments to ensure there are enough resources available so we can meet our customer contracts and delivery commitments. Some of my responsibilities include being the lead on standard product quotation generation, order processing, tracking, and problem resolution; interacting with customers to understand their needs so I can project manage the order; negotiating with customers and executing contracts; and directing the department personnel to maximize our margin.

With all of this, the degree definitely gives me a solid foundation to be successful. At the end of the day, I knew that a degree was the only thing that would open doors for me.

Lastly, do you have any advice to share with others who may be considering a degree in manufacturing?

SK: You can't really go wrong with a degree in manufacturing. This program in particular has a good mix of concepts and practical application. With the MM degree, the learning curve won't be as steep and you’ll be able to contribute right away at your new job or workplace. Even if you're not sure of what you want to get into specifically, the MM program is multidisciplinary so there is a lot of flexibility with your career in manufacturing.