Seventeen Arkansas Tech University agriculture business students were charged with solving a real-world problem posed by the ConAgra Foods production facility in Russellville and presenting their solutions to a panel of 11 leaders from across the plant.
The students utilized a detailed system to evaluate workplace injuries, determine potential causes and identify ways to reduce future incidents in support of employee safety, reduced health care costs and increased productivity.
The project was part of a senior seminar class taught by Dr. Willy Hoefler, professor of animal science in the ATU Department of Agriculture.
When the solutions were presented on Monday, Nov. 4, the audience included Joe Wilson, ConAgra Russellville plant manager. He noted that while the project benefits the ATU students, it also creates opportunities for his organization.
“We knew about two-and-a-half years ago that we really wanted to start increasing our partnership with Arkansas Tech,” said Wilson. “We know there are lots of talented young women and men coming out of the school, and we weren’t necessarily tapped into that pipeline. Working with the ag business department has set the foundation for this relationship. So that’s No. 1. We want to get talent out of Tech. Secondly, several of our leaders are passionate about the education process in this area. It’s multifaceted for us. The credit goes to Alyssa (Bond) and Jonathan (Russom). They are the ones who invested a lot of time with these students.”
In addition to Wilson, other ConAgra representatives who listened to the presentations and offered feedback were Alyssa Bond, human resources specialist; Matt Hall, business unit leader; Heather Jones, nurse; Drew Latch, environmental health specialist; Jack Mann, environmental health specialist manager; Jason Pitts, business unit leader; Jonathan Russom, process improvement leader; Kevin Smith, operations manager; Debbie Stanley, continuous improvement; and Jack Wilburn, maintenance manager.
Courtney Berry, Ciaran Betcher, Lindsey Booth, Dakota Brown, Jeremy Bryant, Ethan Burton, Aaron Dixon, Calvin Espinoza, Jacob Grothe, Savannah Frachiseur, Kolten McCracken, Christian Munnerlyn, Jace Neuhofel, Sawyer Shields, Madison Short, Blake Sweeden and Kimberly Wickersham were the ATU agriculture senior seminar students involved in the Nov. 4 presentations.
“Guys, I don’t think you realize the tools you have in your pocket now,” said Hoefler to his students once the presentations were complete. “I know it was a challenge, but you have some tools that a lot of other graduates don’t have. This (ConAgra) crew and this facility…I appreciate it so much that we have this partnership and that we can come out and be involved with them.”
Among the techniques utilized by the ATU students were root cause analysis, cause and effect analysis, fish bone diagrams and why why analysis.
“We use a very standard format as it relates to root cause analysis,” said Wilson, who has led the ConAgra Russellville location since April 2017. “It allows us to reduce the chances of injury or improve our performance, whether it is financially-related or otherwise. We think we’ve given (the ATU students) some exposure to some foundations around unified problem-solving methods. In addition to that, they got some exposure and an opportunity to present to leadership within the plant, which never hurts. Getting up in front of folks, having your knees shake a little bit and getting out of your comfort zone helps folks grow. Hopefully, (the ATU students) learned a lot from it.”