Center For Manufacturing Excellence

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coming U of M center puts new face on old perception

By John Howell Sr.

The University of Mississippi’s Center for Manufacturing Excellence (CME), nearing completion between Carrier Hall and the old chemistry building, will offer a unique, multi-disciplinary approach for training students to become industry leaders as well as an extension service to assist the state’s existing and incubating industries, Ryan Miller said Tuesday.

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Miller is manager of the new program that will welcome its first students this fall and will move into its new 47,000 square foot, three-story building next January.

He spoke Tuesday at the meeting of the Batesville Rotary Club.

The establishment of the center is the fruition of Governor Haley Barbour’s “very courageous and … cutting edge commitment from the State of Mississippi to develop this educational awareness of the manufacturing industry here in Mississippi,” Miller said.

Miller described a “perception gap among our teenagers” who see the future of manufacturing as a “dead end.” They are “hearing about factories closing down in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois. They read stories about how the Chinese economy will soon overtake the U. S. economy,” Miller continued. “There’s a perception that’s developing there, and it’s not necessarily an accurate one.”

“We have a responsibility to provide accurate information and to educate our students about what opportunity really exists for them in manufacturing, right in their back yard … that’s where the CME, the center for manufacturing comes into play,” Miller said.

Miller said that the lesser known chapter of the story about out-migration of industry from the traditional base in the north is that they are relocating south. “You don’t hear as often about companies like GE that move into communities within agricultural-based societies and build up their manufacturing bases,” Miller said. “We’re trying to bolster Mississippi, … that’s the extension services program.”

“We have a wealth of industry leaders on our advisory board; GE Aviation is certainly one of those leaders who gives us real world advice” … and “what they’re experiencing in the factories,” Miller said. GE Aviation’s member on the CME advisory board is Batesville plant leader Jeanne Edwards who introduced Miller Tuesday.

Other members of the advisory board include “Toyota, Northrop Grumman, NASA, Viking Range Corporation, … Mississippi and non-Mississippi companies that are telling us what they see on the horizon of manufacturing and what students need to know to be competitive,” Ryan said.

He described a manufacturing extension service program at Ole Miss to assist Mississippi industry not unlike the Mississippi State University’s Extension Service that has for over a century promoted the state’s agricultural and environmental interests.

“We will send CME staff members as well as students out into the industrial community … to companies that are in need of help, … companies that have made known their need for some expertise,” Miller said, “to strengthen the manufacturing base of Mississippi.”

The CME programs manager said that the educational mission will include teaching students to speak “multiple languages. I’m not talking about Spanish or Japanese or Chinese … (but rather) in the sense that an engineer knows about marketing, an accountant knows about fluid dynamics. … Our job is to bring together different schools that traditionally operated in separate spheres with little overlap … to better equip them with the skills sets needed to be competitive … globally,” Miller continued.

The CME facility under construction will include a 12,000 square foot factory floor with a line for woods fabrication, metal fabrication and plastic fabrication, according to the CME manager.

The curriculum will include putting together students from engineering, accounting and business in problem-solving teams for “hand-on, real-world, professional development,” he said.

“We plan to work in tandem with community colleges,” Miller continued, describing cross-curriculum developments that will allow CME students to work in community college programs and vice versa.

Degrees offered include a bachelor of science in engineering, a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on manufacturing as well as degrees form the School of Accountancy and School of Business, also with an emphasis on manufacturing.

The CME’s first scholarship recruiting attempt attracted 16 targeted students. Three are females, Miller said, responding to a question. The 16 averaged ACT scores of 30 and grade point averages of 3.85, “so these are top-notch students,” he added.

“It’s a tremendous resource for us, that’s for sure,” Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons said following Miller’s presentation. For further information visit