Topics: Alumni, Miller College of Business, College of Applied Sciences and Technology

May 19, 2008

Ball State University is incorporating a nationally recognized business management strategy and an immersive learning experience into the core of a new minor as a result of a gift-in-kind valued at $1.4 million from a prominent alumnus.

Mikel Harry, a 1973 Ball State graduate and president of the Six Sigma Management Institute, recently presented the university's Department of Technology with an unrestricted perpetual license to allow undergraduates enrolled in the minor in process improvement to earn a Six Sigma Black Belt certification — one of the most  popular credentials in business today.

As part of the gift, the university's School of Extended Education also will offer Six Sigma education training programs as part of its online curriculum.

"I believe that by implementing the Six Sigma system into the university's curriculum, we will create a center of excellence that will heighten students' education and make them more valuable to a variety of industries," said Harry, co-creator of the Six Sigma methodology. "The basis of a Six Sigma Black Belt is the ability to solve problems, which is what companies across various fields are looking for today in their employees.

"Not only does a Black Belt certification make a student more valuable, but the certification also increases salaries by $5,000 to $10,000 annually. These graduates will be highly sought after because they'll be the leaders in problem solving for a company."

Creating experts

Six Sigma seeks to identify and remove the causes of defects and errors in manufacturing and business processes. Originally developed at Motorola, its application was then extended to other types of business processes. Under the system, a defect is defined as anything that could lead to customer dissatisfaction or negatively impacts stakeholder value.

It uses a set of quality management methods, including statistical methods, and creates "Black Belts," who are experts within the organization. Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified financial targets such as cost reduction or profit increase.

Ball State students enrolled in the new minor began the first of six classes in the spring semester. After passing the classroom portion of the program, students will then apply their skills during an immersive learning experience, working with a mentor at an area company to identify potential opportunities for process improvements. A student's final product will be a formal report.

 "Only a company's best and brightest are selected for Six Sigma training after they've proven themselves professionally," said Alan Leduc, an associate professor of technology and a Six Sigma Black Belt. "In most cases, they are then quickly put on the fast track for promotions into upper management. Ball State will be educating students for Six Sigma years earlier than in the corporate world, providing firms with eager young professionals armed with a Black Belt and an impressive portfolio based on their hands-on application of Six Sigma.

"There are Fortune 500 firms paying high salaries to attract employees with Six Sigma training. Our plan is to educate students from a variety of majors on the Six Sigma system. It could transform our education process." 

'Visionary university'

While working on his Black Belt certification, Leduc and Harry became "e-mail buddies" as they discussed various case studies and other projects. That professional relationship evolved over the years, allowing negotiations to begin on bringing Six Sigma to Ball State.

Harry credits Leduc's drive and determination in creating the new minor as the reason for his returning to campus in 2007 for a series of guest lectures and speaking engagements.

"Alan locked onto Six Sigma after getting his certification and has been very persuasive in getting other university officials on board," Harry said. "I've also spoken to Ball State President Jo Ann M. Gora about the impact that Six Sigma can have, and she sees the impact. Ball State is a much different place today than when I attended because it has become a visionary university, thanks to people like Alan and Dr. Gora."

As a result of conversations with Leduc, Harry returned to Ball State in 2007 as an executive-in-residence, speaking to students, faculty and staff in the Department of Technology and sharing his insights into Six Sigma with business leaders and others as part of the Miller College of Business Distinguished Speaker Series.

"Ball State has always been very close to my heart, and I want to do something to help not only the university but the community as well," Harry said. "By educating a new generation of Black Belts, Ball State will send them into the community to assist companies in improving their performance. In the end, not only will the students thrive, but the community will be a better place to live and work."