International impact

Oct 20, 2006

Kettering senior Ricardo Rodriguez of Mexico City, Mexico, engineers a career before graduation that includes significant international assignments for Magna International Inc.

Two years. That's all he expected. Two years of professional engineering work during his college experience. Prepare for life as a professional engineer. Buy a new vehicle upon graduation. Start enjoying the fruits of his success.

But what he actually received in that time far exceeded his expectations.

Saltillo, Mexico; Troy, Mich.; Ontario, Canada; Greenville, S.C.; Shanghai, China; and Nagoya, Japan. For a short period of time, Ricardo Rodriquez called these cities, states and countries home. As a Mechanical Engineering major who will graduate in 2007, gaining international engineering co-op experience with Magna International Inc., a leading global supplier of technologically advanced automotive systems, is something many engineering and business management students hope to obtain during their co-op assignments. And while a great many Kettering students do achieve this opportunity, senior Ricardo Rodriguez experienced this global experience while serving in leadership roles with some heavy duty responsibilities often managed by mid-level engineering professionals.

Engineering co-op; engineering changes coordinator; process engineer; lean manufacturing leader; quality leader; launch coordinator. These are just some of the titles Rodriguez has held at Magna since becoming a co-op student with the organization. What lead him to Kettering was the school's "close ties to the automotive industry and the chance to gain a major head start by working for two years before I graduated college," he said.

The head start, however, was more than just that. Some of his assignments included coordination of engineering changes and quotations during the launch of the GM HHR vehicle program for Vehma International; processing all manual assembly stations for the production of the GM GMT 900 truck frame in Saltillo, Mexico; leading the implementation of lean manufacturing and processing in a new plant; leadership responsibility for quality integration during the Mercedes Benz GL launch for Drive Automotive Industries in Greenville, S.C.; and designing and leading the implementation of a quality system for Cosma China in Shanghai, China.

Some heady work for a 21-year-old student. But despite Rodriguez's soft-spoken manner, generous smile and desire to help those around him, he has a clear vision of his future and what he hopes to accomplish in his career. This vision is taking shape based on his professional experiences thus far, such as his work at Cosma China as a launch coordinator. During this assignment, he was charged with buying off tools in China, which included the hiring of engineers who had little, if any, professional engineering experience. "We had to limit our costs and the company felt this was a proper step to take," Rodriguez explained. The tools that he was in charge of were produced according to American standards by local suppliers who did not make a profit from this work. This didn't sit well with the young engineer. The tools were "scattered" throughout the country and Rodriguez had to ensure that they were sent to the Shanghai plant in less than two months time.

To do this, Rodriguez had to lead his team and "meet with each supplier and offer our support so that they could profit while meeting our requirements," he said. "After many visits, failures and long hours, the tools, just like the tooling knowledge and English skills of the engineers, greatly improved. The deadline was met; our team reduced the expenditures for securing the tools in the Shanghai plant and our suppliers made a profit. More importantly, today the engineers are doing an excellent job at operating and continuously improving the plant. The opportunity to transfer my previous experiences and knowledge despite difficult circumstances and proudly observing progress made so quickly made me realize that helping to develop the skills of others comes before delivering results. When returning home, it dawned on me that I learned more from them than I expected-and that is the passion to improve everyday," he added.

He also credits Dr. Mark Palmer's IME-301: Engineering Materials course as one of the best he has taken thus far at the University. Rodriguez said that Palmer is well-prepared and the down-to-earth approach he employs when teaching students is extremely effective and represents an attribute Rodriguez tries to exhibit when working with engineering teams. "I remember everything I learned in this class," he said, adding that the course "gave everyone a very down-to-earth approach to problems one might see on the plant floor everyday. Students could see that Dr. Palmer did his best planning the course."

His future aspirations include designs to become a "true leader in manufacturing and eventually run an automotive company," Rodriguez said. He anticipates pursuing his MBA at a top university in the future and learn more about different industries to help sharpen his skill set. Based on his view, the auto industry is currently in disarray and he feels a sense of bewilderment regarding the lack of good management skills throughout the field. "Millions of people with initiative depend on the automotive industry and it's a shame to see their lives affected simply because management does not know how to motivate them, manage human resources and perceive labor as if it's a commodity," he explained.

And while at Kettering, he has met many people who are well educated, more than willing to get their hands dirty and wish to make positive change. "I enjoy meeting people who face difficult challenges at work and are ready to execute a change," he concluded.

Written by Gary J. Erwin,
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