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The International Lean Summer Program has grown steadily since it began in 2011 as a way to bring international students to Knoxville and showcase some of the industrial engineering programs UT could offer.

Having seen its enrollment grow tenfold from that first class of twenty-six students, the program is now so successful that the Institute of International Education asked that it be expanded from one month to two.

“We have 250-plus students here this summer from all over the world,” said program director Rupy Sawhney, the Heath Fellow in Business and Engineering and a professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “Monterrey Tech in Mexico told us before that this is the most popular program abroad for their students, and I think you can see that in our growth.”

Put simply, lean is the study and practice of increasing value to consumers while reducing waste and resource allocation for providers.

Participants this year hail from Brazil, China, Ghana, Nepal, Mexico, and the United States.

With past attendees coming from Colombia and Uganda and sights set on future partnerships with universities in Botswana, France, England, Italy, and South Korea, the scope has grown not only in numbers but also in an increased presence for UT around the world.

“Students come in, learn lean business techniques, and then go back and spread the message about the good things going on at UT,” said Sawhney. “Every time we partner with a new university we see growth in the interest from that place from one year to the next.

“There are more people in the pipeline now for this program than I’ve ever seen.”

The program’s success has corresponded with a rise in former participants coming back to UT for graduate studies.

As for the program’s topics, the additional weeks will allow teaching of the lean concept in new areas.

This summer, students will work with Children’s and Covenant System Hospitals, boating companies, manufacturers, and perhaps even more.

“We’re trying to work out something with both KUB and with the mayor’s office to do some city-related projects,” said Sawhney.

While the growth thus far is remarkable in its own right, the continued success could lead to an even more impactful presence.

Though the talks are still in a preliminary stage, Sawhney said that if the interest holds, the program could morph into a year-round offering, something like an academy.



David Goddard (865-974-0683,