The Supply Chain Management department at the University of Arkansas recently gained national recognition as the No. 1 ranked undergraduate program for supply chain logistics in North America. Global research firm Gartner compiles the rankings every two years.
The top ranking is a massive boost for the university. An impressive feat given the department was launched in 2011 under the leadership of Matt Waller and John Ozment, according to Brian Fugate, department chair.
Waller is now the dean for the UA’s Sam M. Walton College of Business. He was also recently chosen for the Distinguished Service Award by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals for his contributions to growing the supply chain and logistics interdisciplinary programs at the University of Arkansas. He will accept that award in September at the group’s annual conference, which is being held virtually this year.
Fugate said the two honors shine a light on the success of the supply chain management program that has grown from 44 graduates in 2011 to more than 250 graduates in 2020. The Gartner ranking reflects the undergraduate program’s industry value, program scope and size. The program is now the fifth largest in the nation.
“It’s an honor to earn such outstanding recognition,” Fugate said. “Northwest Arkansas has become a hot-spot for the industry with all the great supply chain companies located nearby. We must do our part to add to that excellence.”
Waller said the ranking signifies the hard work of faculty and staff to push the boundaries through critical partnerships with the industry to ensure students get the best education possible. He said the honor is good for the entire region. The university, industry partners and notably the Walton College of Business as “a rising tide can lift all boats.”
Fugate said when the program launched in 2011 as a department within the business college, Waller and Ozment collaborated with industry leaders. Companies such as Walmart, Procter & Gamble (P&G) and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. have a vested interest in hiring workers with supply chain skills, Fugate said.
Waller joined the UA in 1994 as a professor of supply chain logistics and said he saw the value of leveraging relationships with industry giants in the region. They could co-teach and provide real-time insights for the needs and desires the companies had to run more efficient and sustainable supply chains.
Waller said friendships with the head of P&G’s supply chain — who was based in Northwest Arkansas — and a Walmart logistics executive in 1995 were the catalyst for what later became the Supply Chain Management Research Center, which is now run by Donnie Williams.
Waller said it began with industry logistics and supply chain professionals co-teaching master’s level classes and providing insights into curriculum development. Fugate noted three years ago the UA supply chain department met with 250 hiring managers across industries from retail to consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers, transport giants like J.B. Hunt and third-party logistics leaders like Transplace.
Fugate said Walmart also asked that students be trained in certain areas around optimization and software automation. He said the department has grown in scope to cover a wide array of teaching up and down the supply chain. Waller said requiring the undergraduates to do internships before they graduate has also been a great way to direct the curriculum to fit diverse industry needs from food manufacturing to retail replenishment and transports and logistics.
“It is also great for students because it gives them the chance to learn about all the various jobs and specialty areas within the supply chain,” he added.
Williams is the new kid on the block. He joined the UA in 2018. He said he visited the college several years before and became a fan because of the forward-thinking mindset of leadership and faculty.
“It was an innovative culture in the supply chain department. New ideas are welcome and faculty and students are asked to push the boundaries for optimum learning and growth,” Williams said.
He said the secret sauce for the success of the supply chain management program is a collaboration with industry. There are now 30 industry leaders who are members of the supply chain management research center who collaborate with the department to provide internship opportunities for undergraduates to make data available for research analysis by faculty and students.
Fugate and Williams said the curriculum and research are constantly being re-evaluated and adapted to fit industry members’ needs. They said the industry member partners have pushed for an adaptive curriculum that teaches students to think and problem solve.
“Our hiring placement of the program is about 90% because our students have been coached to think and act with agility. We are hearing from the industry that other huge themes involve sustainability and now disaster relief replenishment,” Fugate said.
Undergraduate programs in supply chain management at the UA cover holistic and integrated areas of supply chain management, an internship and one of seven minors from the fields of business analytics, blockchain, finance, economics, management, marketing or retail.
When asked about plans for on-campus instruction this fall, Waller said ideas for students to return are still being developed. Fugate said the department has a fully online option that does allow for internships and other industry collaboration. He said this is helpful for the faculty who are now discussing how they can bridge online instruction with some on-campus learning.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.