ETSU’s supply chain program aims to curtail next crisis


By A.J. Kaufman

There was plenty of finger-pointing to go around during the supply chain crisis that unfolded mainly in 2021 alongside the COVID-19 pandemic.

As shipments via land and sea slowed, worldwide shortages arose when large warehouses could not move their products to market, hindering consumer patterns. The genesis of this crisis — caused by failures in the global supply network and various logistics systems — is crucial to understand to prevent a future ordeal.

While industry veterans put their minds together, universities like ETSU hope to produce the next generation of supply chain and logistics leaders. There is no substitute for the benefits of hands-on, practical experience.

Since August 2022, ETSU provides that, by offering a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in supply chain management to equip students with tools to combat real-world problems. Within the major, students can pursue a concentration in either supply chain marketing, supply chain leadership or supply chain operations and analytics. Taught by information systems and computing experts, the latter concentration involves classes in data visualization, enterprise resource planning systems, and database management.

“It was started out of the need to educate the next generation of highly trained supply chain management leaders from the region, a need expressed repeatedly from many employers in many different industries,” Assistant Professor of Supply Chain Management Matthew Jenkins explained to the Business Journal. “Our program is on the cutting edge of supply chain analytics technology, where we use the latest tools and techniques in the classroom.”

As part of the management capstone class, students work on projects for client companies, helping them to solve pressing supply chain problems and improve performance.

And having instructors who’ve worked outside the walls of academia aids students in their journeys from classroom to office or the field. Jenkins worked for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and Siemens Medical Solutions in managerial roles prior to obtaining his Ph.D. in 2017.

“Today’s employers are looking for professionals who are capable of making effective and efficient decisions, and who are adept at proposing solutions to challenging business problems in a highly dynamic environment,” Jenkins said. “Our supply chain management degree program is designed to teach students how to achieve this, by imparting skills, experience, and knowledge required to coordinate business processes and interactions across complex networks of retailers, manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers.”

He says his past experience taught him that only knowing the concepts is not enough to be successful; students must also understand how and when to apply this knowledge. Because of his time in the private sector, he says he shares stories with students about various scenarios and problems they may encounter in their careers, which ideally helps them develop experience-based critical thinking.

Jenkins agrees the management degree program arrived at a critical time.

“The industry is still struggling with the lingering challenges associated with the COVID-19 supply chain challenges,” he added. “The world has changed and grown more dynamic and complex in the last few years. Indications are that this may be the new “norm,” and that the supply chain crises are here to stay for a long time. Because of this, skills like forecasting, planning, communication, social networking, critical thinking, and supply chain analytics are highly critical to the success of companies and will be much sought after by employers.”

ETSU students are involved in case studies with organizations like Eastman Chemical Company to investigate opportunities for cost reduction in procurement and strategic sourcing.

As a bonus, the Johnson City campus is hosting the first annual Appalachian Highlands Supply Chain and Digital Technology Summit on Oct. 20 at the Martin Center.

The gathering, which brings together industry leaders, college educators, researchers, and students, to network with their peers, consists of presentations on supply chain digital transformation and digital technologies implementation roadmaps for regional businesses; supply chain management best practices in entrepreneurial firms; challenges and opportunities in navigating supply chain management in a post-COVID world; and more.

The benefits of this field are vast, including financial. Data indicate that supply chain management programs lead to a nearly 100% job placement rate, and most students coming out of these programs have multiple high-paying job offers prior to graduating.

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