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From Hours to Minutes

FullTextImage/img/@altAlex Lin works with Kent Iberg (left), CEO of Vector Industries, and David Tanner, Vector director of operations and engineering, on a project to automate the organization’s accounting procedures. – VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

Cadet Project Automates Tasks for Waynesboro Non-Profit

LEXINGTON, Va., Aug.7, 2013 – A Waynesboro, Va., nonprofit organization that provides supported employment for adults with disabilities has had its record-keeping and accounting processes sped up dramatically thanks to the efforts of Cadet Alex Lin ’15.

Lin, an applied mathematics major, is one of six cadets participating in VMI’s Applied and Industrial Mathematics program this summer. The program began last year under the name REMACS, which stood for Research Experiences in Mathematics and Computer Science.

Lin’s project for Vector Industries has involved automating several time-consuming tasks related to accounting, payroll, and transportation. Lin explained that one of Vector’s main challenges had been putting together financial reports for its board of directors on a monthly basis. Using the computer language Visual Basic, Lin was able to automate the process of importing the financial records so information for the board could be made available with the click of a button.

“Previously, they had to copy and paste all of their stuff,” explained Lin. “The data analysis was really slow and inefficient.”

A second task that Lin tackled for Vector had to do with determining how much employees are paid. Because Vector’s employees have disabilities, they are not required to be paid minimum wage under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Rather, they are paid on a piecework basis.

Lin explained that prior to his automation of the process, determining how much each individual should be paid was a cumbersome process that involved Vector’s operations and engineering analyst taking a “snapshot” of time worked and pieces produced from six randomly selected weeks over the previous six months.

Because Vector has over 100 employees, Lin continued, this meant the analyst was poring over 600 pieces of data at a time. That was difficult enough – but Lin was quick to note that tracking down and correcting human error made the process even more time-consuming.

“A lot of times there are red flags from either employees entering the wrong amount of hours or entering the wrong amount of production parts they’re produced,” Lin said.

Before Lin’s computer program made its debut, conducting performance evaluations and resetting wages at Vector took two or three days of the operations and engineering analyst’s time. Now, those tasks are accomplished in a matter of minutes.

Lin’s third task for Vector has built upon work done in the REMACS program last summer. In 2012, Cadet Alex Falcetti ’14 developed a computer program for Valley Program for Aging Services to use in routing its Meals on Wheels delivery system for homebound seniors, so VPAS could deliver the meals in the most efficient manner possible.

Lin took Falcetti’s work and used it as a starting point to solve a problem for Vector. Unlike most employers, Vector must provide transportation for its employees, since most do not drive.

“I changed some code and whatnot, like the input information, and I applied it to them picking up their employees so they could optimize their routes,” said Lin. “This will hopefully save them money.”

Lin is now working on his fourth task for Vector, which involves using the data amassed from the previous three tasks – accounting, payroll, and transportation – to help the company analyze the profitability of its contracts. The work done by Vector employees is subcontracted from local industries.

For Lin, the project for Vector is a taste of what he’d like to do after graduation from VMI. He’s aspiring to earn a doctorate in mathematics and then work as a consultant in finance or industry.

“It’s nice to see [Vector] benefit so much from my work,” said Lin, who admitted he hadn’t done much computer programming before tackling the projects for Vector.

Maj. Geoff Cox, assistant professor of mathematics, has been supervising Lin’s work. He noted that the AIM program is providing cadets with much-needed opportunities to take the math skills they’ve learned in the classroom and apply them to solve real problems.

“I am very impressed with this program,” said Cox. “I never had it as an undergraduate, and I wish I could have had these types of opportunities because it’s just nice being able to see what kind of problems that companies are facing. It doesn’t necessarily overlap with what you learn in the classroom. … It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re in a real-world situation.”

Four other cadets are doing AIM projects this summer. They are Stephen Mascioli ’15, for Young Life; Jack Zippel ’16, for United Way of the Greater Augusta Region; and Will Lucas ’14 and Stephen Geyer ’14, for a confidential local company. AIM is partially funded by the Jackson-Hope Foundation and also by the corporations or organizations hiring the cadets.

–Mary Price