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How the pandemic sheds new light on MSU's supply chain program

February 28, 2022
<p>A student is studying in a study room at the Minskoff Pavilion on July 25, 2019.</p>

A student is studying in a study room at the Minskoff Pavilion on July 25, 2019.

Before March of 2020, Kelly Lynch had only received a handful of interview requests in his 35-year career in supply chain management. Now, it's a common occurrence.

"Other than trade publications I had never, ever had been interviewed before," Lynch, who serves as the Director of Corporate and Student Relations for Michigan State University's Department of Supply Chain Management, said. "A lot of our faculty are getting a bunch more requests for media, just because nobody really knew what supply chains were until something bad happens."

Supply chains may have been disrupted before, whether it be natural disasters or traffic accidents, but the COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance of supply chains more than any other event in recent history.

As factories around the world slowed production in light of the virus and cargo ships piled up outside of ports on every coastline, supply chain specialists became more more crucial in fixing the consequences of a global pandemic.

Many of these professionals had worked in the background for most of their careers. Now, they were celebrities of sorts.

At MSU — where the U.S. News and World Report's No. 1 undergraduate supply chain management program in the country is located — this newfound fame is having tangible effects.

Applications have increased by around 10 percent since the start of the pandemic, and the job market after graduation is booming.

However, Lynch said interest in the program was on the rise in the years preceding the pandemic. In 2017, the program had to institute a limit to the number of students admitted to it due to high demand.

Ironically, the department sees this as another supply chain issue.

"There's not enough classroom and faculty, quality faculty, available to teach every student who wants this degree program," Lynch said. "What (we) have done is said we are going to limit the number of students we allow into the degree program while we work to increase the number of faculty, and make sure we have the right facilities in place to properly educate our students."

MSU isn't alone in its increased interest. Supply chain programs around the country, old and new, are experiencing a rise in applicants. This has led to increased competition for top-of-the-line faculty.

"It's the hot degree," Lynch said. "So talent that may have been more willing to move, say, to a prestigious place like Michigan State or Penn State, these other colleges and universities are coming up with their own supply chain programs."

The advantage MSU has in this realm is how its program is structured.

Lynch describes MSU's approach as a stool, where three distinct legs equally hold up a supply chain — supply management, operations and logistics.

"Again, you're trying to optimize what's best for the company," Lynch said. "MSU is the only one that teaches those three legs of the stool, and teaches them in a manner that overlaps."

This approach has paid dividends for the program's graduates.

Supply chain senior Sydney Lintol is completing her time at MSU with seven job offers. She credits the program's three-pronged design with much of her success.

"I think it's super helpful, because a lot of supply chain jobs out of school end up focusing on one of those specific ones," Lintol said. "So you get the chance to kind of survey and see what you like, or maybe what you're good at, during school."

She also appreciated the career-focused courses she took. Interviewing, writing cover letters, and resume building are all covered in the curriculum.

"I'd say that they prepare you really well. And that's what sets MSU apart from maybe other programs."

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The programs success rate is being noticed by those who can't even apply to it yet.

Business-admitted freshman Mila Straskraba said the main reason she came to MSU was to pursue supply chain management.

"I actually came to Michigan State just because of the supply chain program," Straskraba said. "MSU does have the best supply chain program in the nation. That's what it's advertised as."

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