Kyani Alford always imagined herself as an industrial engineer. She even landed an internship at Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville in that discipline. But the University of Arkansas junior discovered that dreaming of being an engineer and actually being one were quite different.
But she also discovered the field of supply chain analysis at Wal-Mart and that she greatly enjoyed the opportunity to be customer-oriented. In the year since then, Alford switched fields, joined the Sam M. Walton College of Business and did a second internship—this time with Wal-Mart vendor Nestlé-Purina—which led to a job offer once she graduates in May.
“Since I switched to the Walton College for supply chain,” says Alford, “I’ve learned that when you enjoy something more, you put more effort and time into it. It makes you want to be involved even more.” She is now focused on transportation logistics and became president of the University of Arkansas campus chapter of Women Impacting Supply Excellence (WISE).
However you find that supply chain management school is where you belong, finding the right school for you is another matter. There are many aspects to consider before choosing, starting with whether you will attend on campus or online. After that, what other factors should enter into the equation?
Global Trade talked to officials at two very different programs—Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas and Tennessee State University’s College of Business—looking for advice. Here are five key points to consider when finding a good match for you.
Does the college have a stand-alone supply chain management department?
Many times, supply chain management is lumped in under other departments, says Loray D. Mosher of Sam M. Walton College of Business. “They don’t get the resources they need to be effective. It takes much time, effort and petitioning in order to create an effective supply chain department. Success in this area allows for support focused on the supply chain agenda such as academic expertise and experiential learning opportunities.”
Is the supply chain management department linked to an outreach center?
This is important because it indicates that area corporations are likely involved in the program and its students. Ask for a list of the school’s active companies; do they have a business board of directors? “You can see what industry is there and how they’re participating in the supply chain programs, because then you’re going to know to what you will have access,” Mosher says.
“One of the things Wal-Mart really gets is supply chain,” Mosher adds. “It offers our students the tricks of the trade, which means we can collaboratively shape curriculum to really understand not only theory and research but also true industry application. They’ve put some resources to back that, partnering with curriculum development, providing classroom speakers. And their suppliers and vendors are very involved, too, with the Walton College.”
So while Wal-Mart is the big name on the University of Arkansas marquee, the company’s policy of requiring its business partners to maintain a physical presence in Bentonville brings students into contact with a Who’s Who of supply chain movers and shakers, including J.B. Hunt, FedEx Freight, BNSF Logistics, Arkansas Best Freight, Cargill, Nestle, Tyson, P&G, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and General Mills.
Likewise, Tennessee State’s Supply Chain Management Governing Board includes Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing, Dell and Wal-Mart that are not only paying attention to its program but are heavily engaged in guiding its curriculum.
“They make sure that scholarship monies are available to our students,” says Tennessee State’s Tracy Pleasants. “They make sure that our students have internships and, upon graduation, we do the networking to ensure that we have students who will work for some of these companies. If I [were] looking to go into a supply chain management program, that would be something that would appeal to me.”
Is the supply chain management program academically credible?
Investigate the faculty’s professional output; in what type of journals and on what topics are they being published? How frequently are they publishing? “You don’t have to get real deep into it,” Mosher says, “but look at the Journal of Business Logistics or the Journal of Supply Chain Management. Where are its contributors teaching?”
Does the program have at least one executive-in-residence on its teaching roster?
The University of Arkansas has Wesley B. Kemp, who was the CEO for Arkansas Best Freight (ABF) for 40 years. “When he was getting ready to retire, he maintained a connection with the university, and now he teaches courses on capitalism and the business environment,” Mosher says. “He has the type of experience that you just can’t get in any other way. That presence brings an experiential dynamic that you’re never going to get with just theory-based procedure alone.”
Pleasants says that besides opening doors for students, executives on campus offer administrators credible, competitive input from a non-academic perspective.
“Think about them saying, ‘I looked at your curriculum, these are things I see that are missing.’ And they can help us adjust to whatever is going on in the marketplace at that time to ensure that our students are capable and ready to be hired once they graduate, based on the shift in the marketplace.”
Is the business school accredited?
Normal accreditation is earned through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). According to the association’s website, there are 739 business schools in 48 countries and territories that have earned AACSB accreditation. But some schools just aren’t, and so you may not gain real, transferable skill sets unless that’s in place.
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