Alumna Successfully Steers SeaRiver’s Application of Lean Six Sigma to Improve Maritime Operations

A strong partnership with industry provides College of Technology students with the experience of addressing real world issues. College of Technology students learn by participating in discovery, and working on real-world projects to gain hands-on, practical learning experience and put theory into practice.

Erin Mitchell earned her M.S. in Supply Chain and Logistics Technology from the UH College of Technology in fall 2013. As a requirement for her Master’s project, she took a Lean Six Sigma course and used Design for Six Sigma strategies to create a improve logistics and transportation processes for SeaRiver Maritime Inc. SeaRiver Maritime Inc. is a privately-held held subsidiary of ExxonMobil that owns and operates vessels that provide maritime transportation of petroleum and chemicals.

Erin is no stranger to the maritime world. After graduating from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Logistics, she sailed on oil tankers before joining SeaRiver as transportation coordinator. Erin earned her Master’s while working full-time at SeaRiver. “The UH classes were practical and productive and the advising and mentoring were great,” Erin said. The variety of students from different industries and jobs, definitely made the curriculum more interesting and valuable for me,” she added. Dr. Jamison V. Kovach guided and mentored her project work and served as chair of her committee. “I always consider my research students my partners and collaborators in the work that we do together,” said Dr. Kovach.  

Erin applied her learning to improve efficiency and daily communication of transportation information used to move and track products on inland barges to different points in the U.S. SeaRiver’s employees and customers were using email to send shipping status updates, load data, discharge location data throughout the day, often exceeding server storage limits. The yearlong project led Erin to explore various methodologies before the decision to create a SharePoint site, a central repository, using Six Sigma processes. “The project management aspect of the work was extremely challenging, which I enjoyed. We made it a user-driven process, as the design requirements were driven through interviews with every conceivable customer. ” I connected with thought experts who provided suggestions and participated in pilot testing,” Erin said. “Having readily available access to information, makes it better all-around for everyone. It has been interesting to experience the spectrum of how the entire process works and to be on the forefront of a changing culture.”