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From a machinist to a project manager: Leas combines technical skills with management skills to lead

Published: September 9, 2022 Author: Chloe Musick

“It’s not a competition. Just set a goal and chip away at it — everyone is running their own race,” Ryan Leas said.  
 
Leas, a non-traditional student enrolled in the online Bachelor of Science in Technical Operations Management (BSTOM) program, started his own “race” towards his degree in 2018. After working as a machinist for fifteen years, Leas was ready for a change in his career path. He wanted to shift into a leadership role but knew that he needed to develop his management skills first.  

“Machinists will always figure out ways to solve all the problems, including with the boss. You think, ‘I can do it better than these guys.’ Machinists have all the technical skills in the world, but there’s more to being a manager than having technical skills,” Leas said.  

As a full-time project manager in a machine shop and a father of two, Leas was attracted to a program that boosted his management skills and had the flexibility to fit into his busy schedule. With a recommendation from his friend to explore programs at Ohio University, Leas discovered the BSTOM program, an online program that allowed him to maintain his work/life balance and still go back to school.  

Today Leas works for IGW, which specializes in machining gear boxes for the rail industry. They manufacture and assemble the complete gear box in house, which creates ample opportunities for skills development in the machine shop.  
 
“Where I work now, they hired me as a machinist. As they grew as a company, I would grow with them. I worked as a machinist and moved into operations management. Now I am a project manager because many of our orders are project-based. The more I got away from machining, the more I needed to expand my skillset,” Leas said.   

The BSTOM is specifically suited for students who have already earned their associate degree, so students can build upon that foundation and earn their bachelor’s degree in only two additional years of coursework. This program is focused on designing, controlling and managing the technical processes and transformation methods of an organization.  

With an associate degree in computerized machine tool systems from Zane State College, Leas already had technical skills in machining, including experience in cam software and CNC machines. With his shift into project management, Leas wanted to capitalize on the BSTOM program to develop his leadership skills at his convenience.  

“I only take two classes a semester and chip away at it. [My company] has supported me with my degree because they can see the difference it’s making. The stuff I work on in my classes, I bring it to work and work on it there,” Leas said.  
 
In fact, Leas filled both his course requirements and improved efficiency in his workplace by completing a “success project,” using his workplace as his testing grounds. He identified an area with a CNC machine that could be improved to maximize efficiency, tore down the machine and re-set it up to improve the flow of the space. 
 
“I only had enough time to get one area done, but we want to do it to the entire machine shop. We want to continue to improve the organization, not just for us, but also for the customers,” said Leas.  

With his busy professional and personal life, Leas needed a program that gave him both the flexibility to take courses at his own pace and give him skills that he could immediately apply to his job. As he finishes up the BSTOM program, Leas will continue to combine his technical skills in machining with his new management skills to excel as a leader in the manufacturing landscape.