An Internship at Nike

This article is part of Summer Stories, a special, online issue of Dukengineer Magazine, in which students wrote about their experiences in the Summer of 2007 during their time away from Duke.

by Leslie Voorhees, ME ‘09

img_7398.jpgLove, devotion, and even obsession could easily describe me as a Duke Athletics fan. Whether it is how I can count on one hand the number of basketball games I’ve missed the past three years or my participation on the Varsity Track and Field team, my passion for sports fuels my competitive nature and is an integral part of who I am. Engineering at Duke has been the perfect challenge for me, an opportunity to problem-solve and think outside the box. Who knew this combination of engineering and sports could help me land one of the best internship experiences possible?

I know what you’re thinking: “Nike has engineers? I thought it was a marketing company.” Nike’s mission statement is “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete*, (*If you have a body, you are an athlete),” and this innovation applies to all areas of the company, not just creative advertising campaigns. The development, commercialization and manufacturing of products at Nike relies heavily on technical backgrounds. When I applied for the internship, I anticipated that I would be able to put my skills to good use.

On the first day of work, the internship coordinators told the group of 175 interns that 16,000 people had applied to be right where we were and that they therefore held high expectations for us for the summer. The challenge was set before me, and would fuel my desire to succeed throughout my time there. Later, I found out my what my projects for the summer would entail. I learned that my role in the Global Engineering Manufacturing Department would not, in fact, fill the ever-present stereotype of temps and interns doing busywork and fetching coffee. I learned I had deadlines, and that my projects would be integrated into Nike through software programs, training and strategic initiatives once complete. I was proud of this enormous responsibility presented to me.

My first project was to improve upon an existing commercialization tracking tool by revising a list of failure codes available that shows the trial results of projects. The failure codes available were too numerous and imprecise, so I consolidated redundant and overlapping codes and created more specific codes to encompass failures that were previously not defined. I received excellent feedback from the liaison offices all over Asia and my list of codes will be used in the new commercialization tracking software.

My second project was to analyze a metric called “Finished Goods Capacity of Tooling,” or FGCT for short. Tooling, which is the mold that makes the outsoles of the shoes, is the biggest bottleneck the factories have in mass-producing shoes and is also extremely expensive. It was my job to research FGCT to identify contributing factors, data sources, stakeholders and systems involved. I did this mostly by interviewing employees both in Oregon and overseas. After that, I prepared recommendations for changes to the existing process to improve accuracy, transparency, and timeliness. I also created a diagram of inputs/outputs for the metric that established a systematic way of recognizing when to expect material changes.

Lastly, I worked with a Manufacturing Team Lead in Guangzhou, China to create a process for compiling defect rates and the number of pairs of shoes produced during production ramp-up of new models. I correlated these to the commercialization process as a way of assessing the success at rendering a design "production-ready." I highlighted the risk factors, and used that metric to analyze and report on global performance and the performance of the Nike liaison in China.

Nike was my Duke-away-from-Duke. One Nike employee told me “People here thrive on being busy, on being stressed,” which is quite reminiscent of my peers back in Pratt. However, the atmosphere was relaxed. There was no dress code, and everyone took two hour lunch breaks to (of course!) get in their run. But, like Duke, the relaxed atmosphere in no way reflected the work ethic or pride people took in their work. It was the perfect mix of work and play: everyday I would pore over pivot tables and map out better business practices, all while scheduling my meetings around my beach volleyball games at noon.

“What a perfect way to transition from college into the real world,” I remarked to an employee one day. She laughed. “Nike isn’t the real world.”