The value of UB’s Student Six Sigma Black Belt Certification, in the words of a program graduate

Sundervel “Sunder” Ganesh Velayutham, operational excellence coordinator at Phoenix Sintered Metals LLC, represents the company at a career fair.

Sundervel “Sunder” Ganesh Velayutham, operational excellence coordinator at Phoenix Sintered Metals LLC, represents the company at a career fair. (Photo courtesy Phoenix Sintered Metals LLC)

Published October 24, 2019


Sundervel “Sunder” Ganesh Velayutham was pursuing his master’s degree in industrial engineering when he began UB’s Student Six Sigma Black Belt Certification. Soon after graduating in May 2018, he landed a job at Phoenix Sintered Metals LLC in Brockway, Pa., as its operational excellence coordinator.

We asked Sunder about his experience in the Black Belt program and its influence on his post-UB life.  

What intrigued you about the student Black Belt program and why did you apply?

I had earned my Lean Six Sigma Green Belt in a 3-day classroom program during my first year of grad school. I enjoyed learning about Lean Six Sigma and continuous improvement. The student Black Belt program gave an opportunity to get hands-on experience in learning and using the tools in a real-world setting, where I can solve real problems faced by a company. I applied because of the value this work experience would add to my resume.

How would you describe what you did and how you did it?

My sponsor was a manufacturing company. The first thing I did was listen to the voice of the customer (the sponsor company) to understand the problems, and then convert the customer’s voice into elements critical for quality. Then I used the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) strategy to statistically solve the problem. My Black Belt project resulted in quality improvement and waste reduction in the early stages of the process, thereby reducing rework, increasing productivity and ultimately saving costs.

What did you expect the program to be like, compared with the actual experience?

I had thought this would be an independent problem-solving project with coaching from the Master Black Belt mentor. But I worked with a cross-functional team using a collaborative approach. It was a great learning experience.

You had a challenging start and many unexpected “bumps.” How did this prepare you for life beyond college?

They taught me two important things: professional communication and time management, and how to challenge various stakeholders about the status quo. These are very important skills to have to be an effective change agent.

What are three things you learned or took away from the experience?

  1. Coaching/mentoring skills
  2. How to influence without authority
  3. A focus on keeping projects on track, on time and within budget

Did this certification help you acquire your current job as Operational Excellence Coordinator?

Yes, absolutely. I am responsible for driving the operational excellence culture throughout the organization. The technical problem-solving skills learned during the project, and the coaching and mentoring skills acquired during the weekly mentoring sessions, played a great role in helping me get this job. I spend a significant amount of time coaching the frontline members in problem-solving methodologies to identify root cause and develop solutions.

What did you learn from the program that you are now using in your job?

  • How to see and identify the wastes and non-value added activities
  • How to develop effective and appropriate process documentation
  • How to challenge the status quo to achieve continual improvement
  • How to identify root cause and develop solutions using DMAIC and the PDCA (plan-do-check-act) approach
  • How to use Minitab for various statistical analysis

What words of wisdom do you have for someone applying for the 2020 program?

This program will help you become more organized and efficient in problem solving. You will understand and learn a lot about professional communications, change leadership and time management.

Some students might not be interested in the program because there are cheaper Six Sigma training opportunities, they want a paid internship, or they already have work experience. What is the value of this program?

The TCIE program is very well structured and TCIE staff and Master Black Belt mentors provide excellent support and guidance throughout the program. There is a huge difference between earning a Black Belt after completing an online exam, versus getting hands-on experience from a real project. The latter provides an excellent learning platform for not only understanding Lean Six Sigma tools, but also developing a wide variety of soft skills that will prepare you for life beyond college.