Supply Chain Management Students: School of Thought
Idealistic and pragmatic, today’s college students find opportunities in supply chain management.
Fortunately for the nation’s logistics operations, today’s logistics management students see the supply chain as a center of opportunity—for themselves, for their future employers, and especially for making the world a better place.
Their idealism has been duly noted by the college professors who teach them. "Students want to be ‘sustainable people,’" says Gerard Burke, professor and chair of the Department of Logistics & Supply Chain Management at Georgia Southern University. In other words, they want to give as well as take.
They also want to learn by doing and to be challenged along the way. They want to use their life experiences—and not just their classroom learning—in their future careers. Just as important, they want to be great at their jobs.
Idealistic and ready to change the world
Whether they’re majoring in art history or supply chain management, students today subscribe to a roll-up-your-sleeves idealism, so much so that demographic experts have deemed their generation "the pragmatic idealists." They’re "industrious, idealistic and in control," as thenextweb.com notes.
Take Devan Dunneback, a December 2016 graduate of the top-ranked supply chain management program at Michigan State University and the 2016 recipient of the Inbound Logistics-APICS scholarship.
Armed with well-defined career goals and insights honed by classroom experiences, Dunneback collected his diploma one day and went back to work before his newly minted degree had time to collect dust. Thanks to an 18-month internship that turned into full-time employment, he has a job he loves in logistics and transportation at Nestle Purina PetCare. It’s the first stop on a career he has already plotted.
"It seems I am on the path to reaching my goals, but my goals are not as shallow as getting a degree and getting a job. I’m looking for a job that makes a real difference in our world," he wrote in the essay accompanying his scholarship application.
Armed with a supply chain management degree from Michigan State University, Devan Dunneback’s goals include directing the supply chain for a major global company, and encouraging socially responsible purchasing decisions.
The son of a General Motors machine repairman, Dunneback has scaled his ambitions to nosebleed heights. He wants to direct the supply chain for a major global company. In this role, he’ll not only be able to stretch, he’ll also be able to encourage socially responsible purchasing decisions. By doing so, he says, he’ll help ensure productivity and profitability for his employer while doing some good for the folks working the assembly lines.
In U.S. factories, "there are a lot of measures in place to keep people safe. That’s not a global phenomenon," Dunneback explains, noting that workers in too many out-of-the-way manufacturing centers routinely face alarming jobsite conditions.
"You should not have to go to work wondering if you are going to come back with all of your limbs," he adds. "I would like to get to the point where I can help make a safer world."
Meanwhile, at Brigham Young University in Utah, pragmatist and idealist Josh Wright has his sights fixed on a career that will allow him to harness the power of the supply chain on behalf of underdeveloped regions.
A sophomore pursuing studies in global supply chain management, he discovered the wonders of an efficient supply chain while just a teenager. Accompanying his parents to the Marshall Islands, where his father, a builder, was helping construct a house for someone in need, he saw firsthand how a flimsy supply chain can impede economic progress.
"With the building process, I realized something was up," he says. When, for example, their ersatz construction team needed additional lumber, a trip to the hardware store often proved futile.
"Store personnel would say, ‘If the slow boat comes in this week, we’ll have materials for you,’" Wright says. Should the boat fail to materialize on time, or within a reasonable window, prices would spike and progress would halt.
Disturbed by this reality, Wright started wondering what could be done to make the situation better. "That’s how the supply chain found me," he says.
Seeking challenges and harnessing life experiences
Gregory Dutson, a military veteran and a senior at the University of Alaska at Anchorage (UAA), chose his double major in marketing and global logistics and supply chain management for multiple reasons.
"My first reason is that I wanted a business degree that had some differentiation and was ‘forward facing’ with more perceived opportunity than traditional fields such as accounting," he explains. "I wanted to enter a career field that hasn’t necessarily been around for ages, so that I could be on the leading edge of business moving forward.
"The second reason is that I love to travel, so learning more about transportation seemed interesting," Dutson says. "What better way to travel than with an airline or a marine shipping business you work for after learning about global logistics?
"The third reason is that I am a veteran, so logistics has a different connotation to me than to a lot of people," he notes. "Logistics was coined by the military to some extent, so it doesn’t just mean ‘making the pieces fit together for a birthday party,’ like it seems to mean to many of my friends."
Dutson finds that his professors and the UAA curriculum have shone the spotlight on the growing significance of logistics and supply chain management in an increasingly global economy. He knows that joining the profession means he’ll need to juggle, prioritize, and multitask—skills that don’t come out of a textbook but can be cultivated through opportunities to work in teams, applying formulas and principles to real-life challenges while solving business problems on the fly.
"My education has set me up to be able to manage multiple tasks because of the different classes that require group projects," Dutson says. "Throughout the semester, I might have four or more group projects going on at once.
"At one point I had a transportation management project, a statistics project, a consumer behavior project, negotiations to prepare for, and an international marketing presentation all due at the same time," he says. "One professor also assigns projects where we have to present our understanding of a topic to the rest of the class.
"It’s difficult at first to see how to effectively convey your understanding of large swaths of data like that, but that’s why we go through these courses," Dutson notes.
Deadlines and Details
Like Dutson, Taylor Cotter, a 2015 graduate of Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University, finds value in courses and professors focused on imparting the skills and values employers demand. He uses these routinely in his job with an international construction company.
"Time management, a strong work ethic, and attention to detail are skills that my courses taught me," Cotter says. "Working on a deadline while handling complex data is certainly a challenge, and paying close attention to detail makes that challenge even tougher.
"Managing logistics is critical, and learning in my global supply chain management course about how to handle the details has translated to the real world, where I find myself working with individuals all over the world daily."
Still other students—some of whom plan to use their logistics degrees in non-traditional ways—appreciate the big-picture thinking fostered not just by global logistics curricula but also by electives in other subjects. Put these different disciplines together, and you have the foundation for public and economic policies that help industries—and individuals—everywhere.
That’s certainly on the mind of Bhavin Jindal, a student at Claremont McKenna College in California. He hopes to use his logistics education—as well as his extensive coursework in political science and economics—at an international organization such as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, or even a consulting firm that works across all the time zones. He’s not so much interested in running a supply chain as in fostering growth in developing areas.
"I look forward to contributing innovative ideas to modernize communities, optimizing existing infrastructure, and tackling specific challenges that inhibit economic and social growth in developing countries," Jindal wrote in his application essay for the Inbound Logistics-APICS scholarship.
"I chose a career in logistics and supply chain because I live in the 21st century," he wrote. "In the age of globalization, every aspect of our lives relies on the movement of information, ideas, products, and services. When more people are connected there is faster progress."
Bhavin Jindal, a student at Claremont McKenna College in California, plans to use his supply chain education to help foster growth in developing areas around the world.
In his essay, Jindal highlighted the role logistics capabilities play in economic development. The supply chain, he explained, "is often overlooked in the process of developing local, national, and regional infrastructure. Many times, students and policy makers focus on the most obvious aspects of development, such as introducing technologies, reducing corruption, and establishing small businesses in communities. While these endeavors are worthy, there is too much emphasis on them compared to the results that they produce."
Jindal is itching to put his cross-disciplinary expertise to work helping revive post-conflict zones in Southeast Asia: "It is up to knowledgeable supply chain analysts to determine the relevant stakeholders and strategize where new infrastructure should be built," he said. "The thought of helping make these decisions is exciting."
Brianne Nealon, a junior at Rutgers University, enrolled at the New Jersey school intending to study finance. But an introductory course in supply chain management convinced her the logistics field could satisfy her appetite for problem solving and her thirst for stimulation.
What grabbed her attention? The professor’s dynamic presentation of all the moving parts that make up a supply chain.
"I love multitasking. I don’t want to stay in one field; I want to move around," she says, adding that she has been romanced by the supply chain’s promise of never-ending challenges and ever-changing demands. "It’s about figuring out what works."
Brianne Nealon, a junior at Rutgers University, switched her major from finance to supply chain management, attracted by the never-ending challenges and ever-changing demands.
Soft Skills, Hard Benefits
Nealon has also come to learn just how important soft skills are to successful supply chain management—skills, she says, that she possesses in abundance. They include communication, developing relationships, and listening.
As she builds her resume, enhanced by a summer 2015 internship at Inbound Logistics, Nealon thinks a lot about the reservoir of outside-the-classroom lessons she has to draw upon. A volunteer gig at a soccer tournament taught her to think on her feet when a referee failed to turn up for a match. Day-to-day life with six siblings prepped her for fierce negotiations. And as a member of a Rutgers club soccer team, she has learned a lot about leadership, about stepping up to opportunities, and about backing up the rest of the squad.
BYU’s Wright also has found career-enhancing opportunities outside the classroom, opportunities he finds almost as valuable as assigned readings and projects. BYU students often participate in clubs aligned with academic majors. These, in turn, sponsor programming—case competitions, for example—that allow students to come together to address a real or hypothetical supply chain challenge.
Still another valuable experience came outside the business program, when Wright signed up for an extracurricular homecoming effort to assemble alumni on a mountainside for a traditional lighting of a giant Y affixed to the slope.
Josh Wright, sophomore at Brigham Young University, has his sights fixed on a career that will allow him to harness the power of the supply chain on behalf of underdeveloped regions.
"It was a logistics issue with a lot of different moving parts," he recalls. With the university’s reasonable but not extravagant budget, he and his peers organized a convoy of vans to shuttle participants to and from the site. It was their job to anticipate demand and supply accordingly—an experience that tested his ability to plan ahead, analyze options, and execute efficiently.
For Dunneback, his MSU classrooms have provided the backdrop for a number of gratifying "aha" moments.
Before transferring to MSU, he was a debt-averse student at a community college, working nearly full time at Grand Rapids-based Pridgeon & Clay, a metal stamping and manufacturing company that supplies the automotive industry.
That experience confirmed a fascination with manufacturing first stoked by a factory tour he took as a schoolkid. Years later, while working 12-hour shifts at Pridgeon & Clay, "I would see the raw materials coming in," he says, and then, at the other end of the assembly line, see how "coordination with third-party logistics (3PL) providers got the product to its destination."
This seemed like seamless perfection to Dunneback, but it took lessons from a professor to help him realize just how critical optimized processes are to business success.
He took that awareness to his internship, where he was immersed in data analysis and the pursuit of continuous improvement. In the interests of continuous improvement, he filmed a number of manufacturing processes and assembled a team to study the results. The group watched the films repeatedly, "trying to save 20 seconds, five minutes, 10 minutes on a machine changeover," he says. "When the production line is not running, we are not making money."
If it was satisfying to take classroom insights into the workplace, it was just as rewarding to bring workplace triumphs back to the classroom, to dissect them with other students and analyze them for larger truths. Best of all, Dunneback says, the other students—many with internships underway or recently completed—could add similar stories of their own.
"I sat next to classmates doing internships at Boeing or Cardinal Health," Dunneback says. "They shared their insight, so I was learning alongside some great minds."
Dutson also appreciates the opportunity to learn from great minds and old hands. With that kind of knowledge transfer in mind, UAA makes a point of organizing company tours and hosting presentations by industry experts, who not only demonstrate how basic principles play out when put to the test, but also introduce students to industry-specific priorities and terminology. "They come in with their own personal lingo, which is helpful," Dutson says.
Along with face-to-face meetings with industry pros, daily challenges in a workplace setting serve to make classroom concepts real. What’s more, they demonstrate the role of creative problem solving.
That’s especially true when it comes to learning how to use data to make business decisions. For example, in his MSU classes, Dunneback learned all about the importance of reliable numbers. But now that he’s in an office running data, he’s learning how to employ it strategically.
"I’m basically a data analyst right now, and I report to a supply chain manager," he says. "I’m learning how to turn numbers into insights and make recommendations and action items from them."
Thinking Out of and All Around the Box
Dutson, for his part, appreciates how his professors have emphasized all the factors that support problem solving.
"The UAA program takes a distinctly managerial approach to supply chain management and logistics with an economics flair," he says. "One professor continually appeals to us to think of issues in, out of, and all around the box, rather than getting fixated on single issues."
In addition, Dutson explains, "our exams are graded for understanding of content along with showing an ability to problem solve. We aren’t being trained to just analyze supply chains or search through data. We are being trained to manage the complexities of entire operations and to rely on the people that we will be managing to know their jobs."