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Alumni-driven supply chain projects benefit students and their clients amid pandemic

Thursday, June 25, 2020

hand holding supply chain card

What happens when you combine alumni engagement and student organizations with experiential learning opportunities and industry partners seeking to optimize their supply chains during a global health pandemic?

At Purdue, you get a virtual consulting team that has already helped the University improve its procurement processes, save money to help maintain a tuition freeze, and provide a transformational experience to nearly 20 students — including some whose summer internships were rescinded due to the Covid-19 crisis. 

Starting from scratch

Planning for the project actually began in fall 2019, prior to the pandemic and students transitioning to online learning. At that time, the group included retired IBM consulting executive Jeff Powers, a member of the Krannert School Alumni Association (KSAA) and co-chair of the student-alumni engagement committee, and Mary Slater, Shell TechWorks Business Excellence Manager, KSAA board member and alumni advisor for the Operations and Supply Chain Organization (OSCO). Amy David, a clinical assistant professor specializing in supply chain and operations management and student-led consulting projects, provided additional counsel.  

The leaders of several Krannert student organizations also were part of the initial planning, including OSCO and the Association of Industrial Management Students (AIMS), along with a group of senior industrial engineering students and student consulting groups from PurdueThink and Purdue Solutions. Other students from the Krannert School, College of Engineering, and Purdue Polytechnic also joined the team later in the spring semester.

“We all decided to try to take the clubs to the next level,” Powers says. “The students in particular wanted to work with alumni advisors to help shape an agenda for upcoming events that prepared them for applying what they have learned outside of the classroom as they strive for careers in supply chain,  consulting or work in the high-tech industry.”

Getting down to work

The first project began close to home with Robert Wynkoop, associative vice president of Purdue Auxiliary Services, who wanted assistance in supporting the University’s ongoing tuition freeze by making its procurement process and buying more cost-efficient. What started as a traditional consulting project quickly shifted gears when the pandemic struck, says Powers.

“During a global health crisis, we had students working virtually to optimize process, drive efficiency, and reduce costs in certain spend categories for the University that directly resulted in helping cap tuition for future Purdue students,” he says.

The impact on learning was equally impressive, say participating students.

“I loved this project because it was heavily purpose-driven,” says Calvin Robinson, a senior majoring in general management. “Our goal was to help generate cost savings in order to support the University’s commitment to the financial accessibility of a Purdue education, which made me that much more motivated to do the work.”

Krannert senior Caleigh Tiley liked the opportunity to work with students from all walks at life at Purdue. “It was great to see what can be achieved when working not only across the different colleges, but also across organizations,” she says. “There was a lot of diverse talent and hardworking, smart students, so it really highlighted what you can achieve when you work together and source from the deep well that is Purdue.”

Tanya Goel is another student who added to the talent pool. The Krannert junior says the virtual aspect of the project helped her adapt to Purdue’s transition to online learning in the spring and paved the way for a virtual summer internship with a B2B technology company.

“It made me more comfortable using the different online platforms for group work and helped me become more flexible in my work style,” she says. “It was great preparation for my internship.”

Wynkoop was so impressed with the students’ work that he asked them to present it to President Mitch Daniels, Chief Financial Officer Chris Ruhl, and Senior Vice President of Administrative Operations Michael Cline, as well as continue their efforts through the summer and possibility into the fall.

“They knocked it out of the ballpark,” Wynkoop says. “We essentially gave them a problem and some supporting data. The team took that and ran with it. They had little procurement experience, but their analytical foundation was solid and they kept asking questions. I could not have asked for a better final product — solid, executable recommendations with great analysis to back it up. Just a great project!”

Moving forward with passion

Calling themselves the Boilermaker Consulting Group, the students have already secured another supply chain virtual consulting project by partnering with Rolls-Royce and GE around an industry strategy paper focused on best practices responses to the Covid pandemic. The team plans to approach other industry partners in the aerospace and defense sector with similar partnering proposals.

"For students who lost their internships for the summer due to the impact of Covid-19, this opportunity has helped ensure the effects of the pandemic won't be detrimental to our work toward future full-time employment,” says group member Lauren Heiss, a senior studying industrial engineering.

“We have taken what we have learned from the project about leveraging technology, along with advice from Purdue faculty and alumni experts, to deliver significant client value and insights for a virtual consulting experience to be replicated for future Boilermakers."