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“One key differentiator is the willingness of faculty and staff to engage with our students on a meaningful level as part of the educational process while also supplementing their supply chain education with the professional development necessary to successfully enter industry.”
— Joe Hanna, Associate Dean
Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business announced on June 8 that it has formed a Department of Supply Chain Management. The creation of the new department brings expanded resources and focus to the college’s highly ranked supply chain management program, which is recognized as one of the top three in the nation by Gartner Group in its most recent rankings.
Auburn Supply Chain Management at a Glance
We sat down recently with Joe Hanna, Associate Dean and Regions Bank Professor of Supply Chain Management in the Harbert College of Business at Auburn University, to discuss the long and storied history of supply chain education at Auburn and how a transportation curriculum established in the late 1960’s has evolved into the highly ranked hub of educational excellence and professional development it is today.
HCOB: Can you talk a bit about the origins of the Supply Chain Management program at Auburn?
Hanna: Let’s start with a little historical background. What is now called the supply chain management program at Auburn has evolved considerably over the years.
Back in the late 1960’s, it originated as a transportation industry-focused program. At the time, transportation was a heavily regulated industry, and it was imperative that students entering the industry understood these regulatory issues so that they could perform successfully in industry upon graduation. As the transportation industry evolved and became deregulated in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, our program evolved with it.
By the mid-1980’s, curriculum that had originated as transportation programs broadened beyond transportation to include additional functional areas of the customer distribution process like warehousing and inventory management. As the 1980’s progressed, organizations began to realize the importance of evaluating the entire distribution system since decisions made in one functional area oftentimes impacted the other functional areas. From the mid-1980’s until the early 2000’s, the term “logistics” became used to describe the integration of the various functional areas used to create customer distribution networks. In response, many universities, including Auburn, broadened their curriculum and created logistics programs. At that time, Auburn’s Transportation and Physical Distribution program became known as the Logistics program.
HCOB: When did “logistics” become “supply chain management”?
Hanna: While logistics operations tended to focus on distribution efforts to customers, as the competitive environment intensified in the early 2000’s, leading companies continued to examine their processes and integrate various functions. Our faculty and those in industry realized that the increasingly complex movement of products was far more than transportation, distribution or logistics – it was necessary to have smooth, integrated operations across the entire plan, buy, make, deliver process. In response, companies continued to integrate and enhance their supplier, manufacturing, and distribution networks. As those integration efforts within and between companies began to deliver tangible results, the term “supply chain management” emerged to describe this trend. In many cases, integrated supply chain management systems now manage a process that begins with raw material extraction and continues until the product is disposed of after use by the consumer. To execute this type of integrated supply chain network, companies need to understand and manage all the elements that impact the purchasing/sourcing process, the manufacturing process, and the distribution process. This “cradle to grave” mentality requires a whole host of skills and expertise that is now known as supply chain management.
HCOB: Can you tell us how the Supply Chain Management program as it exists today at Auburn was created?
Hanna: In response to the evolution of the market, in Fall 2007, the Harbert College of Business combined faculty serving in the Logistics program with faculty from the Department of Management, specifically those with expertise in operations management, to create a Supply Chain Management program.
The program was housed in the newly named Department of Aviation and Supply Chain Management. I was appointed to serve as the department chairperson and oversee the department which included effectively integrating faculty of the logistics and operations management programs into the same department and with a common goal of serving the newly created supply chain program.
With the common goal of creating an excellent supply chain management program designed to serve our students and enhance relationships with our employers, the faculty of both academic areas combined to create the supply chain management program.
HCOB: How has the curriculum evolved since then? What new courses have been added to reflect the rapidly changing demands of this profession?
Hanna: The curriculum has tended to follow the historical perspective I just outlined. Initially, courses were narrowly focused. The transportation program focused on regulatory issues, the logistics program courses focused more on functional areas – a principles of transportation course, a logistics-decision-making course, an international logistics course, etc. The creation of the Supply Chain Management program expanded on the logistics courses by creating a series of foundation courses in purchasing, transportation, logistics and supply chain and then adding advanced courses in areas like decision-making and analytics, quality and six-sigma, enterprise resource planning, and global supply chain operations.
HCOB: How have our relationships with partners in industry shaped that curriculum?
Hanna: The faculty of the supply chain management program have always had a close relationship with industry practitioners. Many faculty members have supply chain industry experience themselves and have remained active in industry-focused organizations.
Given these close relationships, interactions between the faculty members and our industry partners is frequent, with information and insight exchanged on a regular basis. As the industry continues to evolve, our faculty’s experiences evolve as well, enabling us to respond to the industry’s changing needs by adjusting course content and enhancing the curriculum accordingly.
HCOB: Can you expand a little more on how these relationships with partners contribute to the student educational and career preparedness experiences?
Hanna: Our relationships with our partners in industry are vital components of the success of both our program and our students. Industry partners support the program in numerous ways. They regularly participate in classroom visits to supplement academic classroom experiences and open their facilities to our students for educational tours and field trips. They also serve as guest speakers for our student organizations, such as the Auburn Supply Chain Management Association, which is a student-run organization dedicated to furthering supply chain management knowledge and enhancing the career development of its members.
Our industry partners also deliver real-world case scenarios to faculty for use in their courses, providing project-based learning opportunities to our students. Our partners also attend our career fairs and interact directly with our students. They employ our students – both as interns and upon graduation. Many industry partners also provide funding for student scholarships, support students to attend and participate in case competitions and assist with travel so students can experience professional meetings.
Many of our industry partners are also actively involved in the Center for Supply Chain Innovation (CSCI). This involvement creates a powerful connection between members of the supply chain industry, our faculty, and the students of our program. Collaborations between the CSCI and industry allows our supply chain faculty to gain valuable insights into current industry practices and the challenges they face. Furthermore, these collaborations allow practitioners to provide insights into meaningful research questions and then have access to current and relevant research findings. The list of ways our industry partners support and collaborate with Auburn’s supply chain management program goes on and on. Each of these industry interactions combine to significantly enhance the overall educational experience and create professional opportunities for our supply chain management students.
HCOB: What differentiates our Supply Chain Management program from others? What is the “unique competency” that makes our graduates so sought-after?
Hanna: I believe there are many, almost too many to list. One key differentiator is the willingness of faculty and staff to engage with our students on a meaningful level as part of the educational process while also supplementing their supply chain education with the professional development necessary to successfully enter industry. I believe coupling our academic curriculum with the professional knowledge required for industry success – and delivering each component with the touch of personal mentoring – is unique in today’s educational environment.
Another key differentiator is the involvement of faculty with industry initiatives, as I’ve mentioned, and the close relationships between faculty and practitioners. An additional factor is our requirement that every student participate in a professional learning experience, such as an industry internship.
Finally, the Center for Supply Chain Innovation (CSCI) is a huge differentiator and a tremendous asset for our students. By enabling scholars, students, and external partners to collaborate in advancing knowledge, driving thought leadership, and creating practical solutions for supply chain stakeholder communities, CSCI offers a powerful educational environment for our Auburn Supply Chain Management students.
For information on the Supply Chain Management Degree, visit: https://harbert.auburn.edu/academics/undergraduate/supply-chain-management/index.php
For more information on the Center for Supply Chain Innovation, visit:
Joe B. Hanna (PhD. New Mexico State University) currently serves as Associate Dean and Regions Bank Professor of Supply Chain Management in the Harbert College of Business at Auburn University. Dr. Hanna has authored or co-authored numerous journal articles and a logistics textbook, has participated in government funded transportation research and has served as an expert witness on third-party logistics issues. Joe is also an active member of several professional organizations and regularly conducts professional training seminars for various organizations. Dr. Hanna’s area of interest in supply chain management allows him to instruct undergraduate, graduate, and executive education students at Auburn University. Prior to entering academia, Joe gained professional experience working for Phillips Petroleum (now ConocoPhillips), Phillips 66 Chemical Company (now Chevron Phillips Chemical Company), and Coopers and Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers).