The co-op program at Georgia Tech allows students the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in the classroom to paid positions with companies and organizations in a real world setting. Ginny MacGowan, an undergraduate student in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), recently completed her co-op with Lehigh Technologies, a materials manufacturer that turns end-of-life tire materials and other post-industrial rubber into micronized rubber powders. MacGowan has worked with the company every alternating school semester since January 2009.
MacGowan's supervisors at Lehigh were very pleased with her performance. Though she met expectations during her first semester of the co-op, MacGowan showed dramatic improvement and really came into her own during her second semester with the company. According to Koren Wah, Operations Manager for Lehigh, MacGowan was professional, resourceful, and valuable in many facets of their company.
“We encouraged her to be fearless in her pursuit of completing projects that she had been assigned and she demonstrated a real ability to do that. She tackled her projects with great enthusiasm and she was very good about taking care of any follow-up work that had to be done. Ginny is definitely one of the best co-op students that we have ever had,” said Wah.
During her co-op, MacGowan worked forty hours a week with Lehigh’s supply chain team on multiple projects that provided benefits for the company as well as real world training for MacGowan. One of her biggest responsibilities was to cut down the time it takes to ship out material by increasing communications throughout departments within the company. To do this, she conducted time studies on the shipping processes and identified weak spots in the system. With the help of her supervisor, MacGowan implemented a new procedure that made product easier to track down and shipping methods more efficient. She also used her strong organization skills to help the company convert all files and forms, such as data sheets and invoices, to a digital format, which helped Lehigh maintain records more accurately and efficiently.
“Supply chain work was very challenging when it came to getting everyone on board with changes. I learned a lot about working with others and understanding that there are ways to approach people which make implementing changes much easier. I’m really proud of myself for being committed to this role, putting my hard hat and steel toe boots on every morning to be at work by 6:45 a.m., and getting a lot done,” said MacGowan.
In addition to working with the supply chain team, MacGowan also worked as the secretary for the Lehigh Safety Team, a group of twelve people who are notified any time a safety incident occurs. While in this role, MacGowan coordinated the annual Safety Day at Lehigh, which promotes fire, equipment, and overall safety within the company. She also implemented a daily safety calendar which documented whether or not, and to what degree, a safety incident occurred. The calendar was successful in its intent to promote internal communication and safety within the company.
“I really enjoyed the work I did with the safety team at Lehigh,” said MacGowan. “The real life experience I gained through the co-op program helped me mature and I would suggest it to anyone who is interested. I definitely applied my IE education to my responsibilities at Lehigh, and I found it was extremely helpful to have prior knowledge of stochastics and an understanding of supply chain,” said MacGowan.
According to Wah, the co-op program is extremely valuable for the students as well as participating companies. In his opinion, the “real world” experience students receive from the co-op gives them an advantage over those who may not have participated in the program.
“The co-op program allows students to work outside of the classroom and see how the concepts they have learned are applied in an actual work environment. From the employer’s perspective, the program provides an opportunity to inject young, energetic people into their workforce, who can add value to the company,” said Wah.
Back as a student full time, MacGowan continues to gain valuable experience working for MARTA, Atlanta’s rapid transit authority. She works nine hours a week with the company’s infrastructure team analyzing all of MARTA’s assets (trains, sidewalks, escalators, etc.) to see what needs to be replaced and/or repaired.
Aside from school and work, MacGowan is an ambassador with the Society of Women Engineers at Georgia Tech where once a month she visits middle school and high school girls to talk about engineering.
“Not many girls know about engineering. I feel lucky to have the experiences to know what an engineer does. And I want to share that,” said MacGowan.
MacGowan also tutors fellow IE students several hours a week through the academic success center as a way to give back to Tech. It also helps her understand course material better while helping students at the same time. During her time in ISyE, MacGowan has learned valuable lessons which she shares with other students.
“One thing that I really try to stress with my classmates and those I tutor is to understand the material, rather than just memorize it. I have had a lot of IE professors emphasize this and I wish I had realized it sooner,” said MacGowan.
MacGowan, who has always excelled in math and science, chose to pursue her IE degree at ISyE because of the School and Institute’s excellent reputation. She is the recipient of Nelson K. Rogers Scholarship and the Michael Tennenbaum Scholarship. After graduation, MacGowan plans to move back to Virginia to be close to her family and pursue a career in her field.
Her advice for success is simple:
“Never be afraid to dig deep and find your will to not give up.”
Industrial and Systems Engineering