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CHARLESTON — Following a four-week stint with Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia Inc., five high school students working through the Education Alliance presented their capstones virtually last month to the TMMWV president, company representatives and educational leaders in the region.

Facing challenges brought on by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Education Alliance’s WV Ready Summer Internship Program was adapted to be hosted virtually for 2020. Previously, the program enabled interns to spend time one-on-one with participating business mentors on-site.

This year, 15 rising juniors and seniors from six counties in West Virginia were selected to be partnered with Dow Inc., TMMWV and the West Virginia American Water Co. Through the internship, the Education Alliance aims to prepare students with valuable life skills and improve their existing critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

During their internships, students were tasked with learning about the manufacturing processes at TMMWV and making a virtual assembly process for making masks, in which they identified inefficiencies and eliminated unnecessary time in each stage of assembly.

In each group presentation, interns shared videos of their final processes, demonstrating how the incorporation of “kaizen,” or adjustments, along the way greatly improved their virtual line’s overall production.

During their presentations — made during a Zoom call July 31 with national and state leaders — the interns showcased not only the technical skills needed to do an internship during a pandemic but also practical life skills like teamwork, professionalism and work ethic learned during their internship. Each intern gave their capstone presentation to their business’ leadership team and outlined their experience and highlighted their personal growth and future career goals.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Robert Burton, president of West Virginia American Water, Srini Matam, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, and Tom O’Neal, site director of Dow, were among those observing the capstone presentations, which were hosted by the Education Alliance’s Amelia Courts and Olivia McCuskey.

Though interns were unable to meet in person for the duration of their internships, Matam applauded students for their professionalism and ability to adapt during the pandemic as well as their ability to streamline assembly processes.

When it comes to efficiency, he said, every second counts.

“As you’re all thinking, ‘OK, I saved 0.4 seconds, I saved 1 second, I saved 2 seconds; what’s the big deal?’ Think about this: One second saved times 3,000 people in the company. How many seconds would you save? … That’s what adds up. That’s why this elemental work — this kaizen — is so important for a company to survive and be competitive,” Matam said. “Trimming seconds is ginormous, especially in any manufacturing company.”

Charles Jarrell, assistant manager for training and development at Toyota North America, also commended students for their quick thinking and determination.

“I am incredibly impressed with the work you put together,” Jarrell said. “You clearly thought about the build process, you improvised, you adapted, you overcame and you did a spectacular job in telling your stories.”

Interns Davy Jarrell of Sherman High School and Jordan Mosley of St. Albans High School discussed some of the challenges they encountered as well as the innovations they developed as a team.

“Although the goal was to reach a build time of 24 seconds, it was not our only goal,” Jarrell said. “First, we lost our third partner, which encouraged us to create the two-step assembly line. Second, Jordan and I work on different schedules, but we were able to make time to work together. Lastly, Jordan and I were able to build a working relationship, given we did not know each other prior to the internship, and building a relationship is not easy to do virtually.”

Courts spoke to the interns’ ability to translate some of the skills learned during the internship into other activities.

“I was really impressed by the way that you all learned and internalized a lot of the Toyota processes,” Courts said.

Mosley and Rebecca Rowan of Parkersburg South High School echoed the value of the experience.

“I know I always want to try to think of the best way to do things and improve, but I really think I’m going to be thinking about how I can kaizen everyday actions in my own life,” Rowan said.

“Since I learned the word, ‘kaizen,’ I’ve definitely used it, and I’ve already used it just recently at a baseball game,” Mosley added. “Just trying ways to get better and shortcuts to do it, and it actually works.”

Jarrell detailed the importance of critical thinking and how skills gained through the program will assist him today and long into the future.

“This has helped me out so much,” Jarrell said. “It’ll catapult me into my future, whatever I want to do, wherever I want to go.”

Matam concluded by inviting students to visit when it was deemed safer to share a meal, take a tour of the plant and compare their kaizen to active operations.

Deana Marcum, manager of TMMWV Human Resources, expressed her gratitude for the students’ diligent work.

“You guys proved that possibilities are endless when you believe in yourself, and you’ve done a great job,” Marcum said. “We appreciate you.”

“Investing in our next generation is critical to the future success of West Virginia,” said Toyota’s Matam.

“It is critical that business and community members step forward to prepare our future workforce. Toyota believes that every child deserves a chance at success and by investing in the WV Ready Internship program, we are proudly committed to helping prepare the state’s future workforce through education. With virtual training, we are able to keep our students safe amid this pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic will not stop us from educating our students.”

Students with their high school and internship company this year include:

At TMMWV, Mosley; Jarrell; Rowan; Aiden Kittle and Addie Davis from Grafton High School in Taylor County; and James Scott from Huntington High School.

West Virginia American Water: Jace Larch from Riverside High School; Tyrees Smith from Huntington High School; Peyton Bielinski from Hurricane High School; Kushal Modi from Nitro High School; and Garrett Beller from Winfield High School.

At Dow: Adam Keith and Callia Yang from George Washington High School in Kanawha County; Yimin Cai from Hurricane High School; and Jacob Gillenwater from St. Albans High School.

The program is anticipated to be expanded in coming years to serve more of the state’s soon-to-be graduates, with the eventual goal being to expand statewide. To learn more about the program, visit EducationAlliance.org/WVReadyInternships.

Founded in July 1983, the Education Alliance is a private-sector initiative to help businesses understand the importance of financially and resourcefully supporting the state’s public schools and to give business a voice in public education that advances policies and practices to continually improve public school student achievement in West Virginia.

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