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Victoria Ballard, a doctoral candidate in the Auburn University Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, was recently named the 2021 JT Black Lean Engineering Student of the Year. Tom Devall, director of auto manufacturing initiatives for the department, chose Ballard as the recipient of the award.

“The JT Black Lean Engineering Student of the Year award is presented to a student who exemplifies leadership by demonstrating a deep desire to learn, respect for people and commitment to continuous improvement,” Devall said. “Victoria has been an enthusiastic supporter of the work in our department and is extremely deserving of this award.”

Ballard has been interested in systems engineering and industry since earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Washington in 1997. She then received a Boeing Systems Engineering Research Assistantship to earn a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering, which she completed in 1998.

Her family was introduced to Auburn at a family reunion in Washington State. Once they visited Auburn’s campus for a tour and experienced the kind people, the small-town feeling of Auburn and the beautiful campus, she said she knew this was a special place.

“From there, our love of Auburn only grew,” she said. “As I discovered how generous alumni are to the programs and supportive of students, how staff and faculty truly care about student success and happiness, and how Auburn strives to make the world a better place - not only for its students but through research to influence the greater community and world - I knew I wanted to be a part of this impressive mission.”

Ballard’s favorite part about industrial and systems engineering is the systems thinking and systems view that can be applied everywhere. Her current research through the department is based on the implementation of technology and process changes in implementing how Lean Manufacturing affects workers, especially those with disabilities. She has worked closely with Devall, who is the director of the Tiger Motors Lab, commonly referred to as the “LEGO Lab.” She helped implement check pieces at each station as a Jidoka measure, which has proven helpful to participants to produce higher-quality LEGO vehicles. She and Devall are also working this summer to reinvent the online portion of the Lean Systems class to involve online students in the Tiger Motors Lab.

“We are developing live and interactive lessons and enhanced lab activities for an innovative and student-centered experience,” she said. “I hope that I will be able to leave a lasting legacy for future Lean Engineering students as much as the previously recognized students.”

As for the future, Ballard said she will go where God leads her, but she hopes to find a home at Auburn University as faculty so she may continue to make a difference in the lives of Auburn students and the greater community through education and research.

The JT Black Lean Engineering Student of the Year award was named in honor of the late JT Black, who gained national recognition for his Lean Manufacturing research, which began in the early '80s before American companies adopted the discipline. Ballard said she was humbled and honored to be recognized with the award.

“Looking at the plaque of all the great students that have earned this recognition previously - each has left great contributions to the creation, development and perfection of the Tiger Motors Lean Manufacturing Teaching Lab,” she said. “Thank you to Tom Devall, my mentor, for the opportunity to work in the Tiger Motors Lab as a graduate teaching assistant and for nominating me for this award.”

Victoria Ballard and Tom Devall.

Victoria Ballard helped Tiger Motors Lab Director Tom Devall implement check pieces at each station as a Jidoka measure, which has proven helpful to participants to produce higher-quality LEGO vehicles. She and Devall are also working this summer to reinvent the online portion of the Lean Systems class to involve online students in the Tiger Motors Lab.