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"Being virtual and remote, some students are able to go back and review complex things that we talked about in class and see it multiple times versus trying to remember their notes. It gives them a little more access to the material." — LaDonna Thornton, Assistant Professor in Supply Chain Management
LaDonna Thornton wants to travel the globe, eventually. But before she does that, she’s content helping to mold tomorrow’s leaders in supply chain transportation management. What's her research focus? What’s her teaching style? How did she adapt to the changes COVID-19 brought to classrooms? What inspires her? Learn more about the Assistant Professor in Supply Chain Management at the Harbert College:
HCOB: Tell us about your research focus/interests?
Thornton: My research stream explores how micro and macro level phenomena work together to impact supply chain management. This work is a departure from traditional supply chain work that purely focuses on firm-level issues. I have worked on several research projects that explore both macro-level (resource scarcity and social responsibility) and micro-level (interorganizational behavior and supply chain counterproductive work behavior) issues. From a resource scarcity, social responsibility perspective, I explore motivation/intent for addressing and engaging in these societal issues, as well as factors that determine why these issues aren't addressed. Within this research stream I have three elite publications, including articles appearing in the Journal of Business Logistics, which is one of the top journal outlets for supply chain research. Fortunately, publishing in these types of outlets enhances citations of the work and increases the visibility of the research and helps to build the reserch reputation of the college. My current work in these areas will ultimately be expanded to have a broad, real-world impact by providing insight on how organizations can better serve vulnerable populations.
HCOB: How did you maintain the high level of quality education in the classroom for Harbert College students once COVID-19 changed the way instruction was delivered?
Thornton: When the world changed, I tried to think of unique ways to get across what I was teaching. So how do you change it so they remain engaged and calm at the same time and keep teaching? Part of what I had to do was let go of some methods I was comfortable with. Before last Spring, I had never taught online. I had to get comfortable with trying to command a presence in a virtual format and figure out how to ask questions in a virtual format to keep them engaged.
I added polls to my class. I used a software called Mentimeter, which you can add like a gaming aspect where they could participate more and be interactive. We started using this interactive platform to test the knowledge we hoped they were retaining. Looking at the resources offered by the Biggio Center, they offered tips on how to better structure my class and record my lectures. No one really wants to sit in on a video and be lectured to for an hour. Research shows that this generation is good with shorter snippets. So I really tried to condense these down – what was most critical – into the recorded lecture. When they came back online with me, I made interactive activities that would call back to the video they watched and keep them engaged. It was a challenge, a journey. It seems to have worked.
HCOB: Is it possible that students can be better educated in a remote, or hybrid, format?
LaDonna Thornton believes the shift to virtual learning during COVID-19 will be beneficial to students who will soon enter a virtual climate within industry.
Thornton: That depends on the student. Being virtual and remote, some students are able to go back and review complex things that we talked about in class and see it multiple times versus trying to remember their notes. It gives them a little more access to the material, as well as it prepares them for industry -- because what COVID-19 has done is it has shown companies how virtually they can work. Workforce culture is going to change and there’s going to be a lot more virtual working.
Also, Zoom has given us a better opportunity to bring industry leaders into class. It’s easier to get them in here, talk to our students, and explain to them what it’s like in supply chain and transportation. They are so much more accessible because they don’t have to travel. Students love to hear from real-world experience. Now, we can provide access to that.
HCOB: Where does your passion for educating students come from?
Thornton: Today I received two emails from students who say, ‘You helped me. Thank you so much.’ I received another email from a student that said, ‘I took your class and that changed the entire trajectory of what I wanted to do.’ That really makes you feel good. You don’t really know the impact that you have on students until you get that email that says ‘Hey, you might not remember me, but thank you so much and this is what I’m doing now. Thank you for taking the time and coaching.’
HCOB: You spent time in industry before academia. How did that make you a better educator?
LaDonna Thornton loves to travel and looks forward to resuming this hobby, post-pandemic. She considers New Zealand to be among the most beautiful places on earth.
Thornton: Before this new life of being a professor, I worked in the medical products and services world. I was in the supply chain … the hospital supply chain as a distribution supervisor and fleet manager in Boston. My time of managing people and the processes led to many learning experiences. People can tell you what a job is, but they can never tell you how you can be successful at that job. You must figure that out for yourself. How that prepared me for teaching is I come from the perspective of things I wish I’d know before I took a job. This can, hopefully, keep them from making some of the same mistakes that I made in my career or clear some of the hurdles that I had to deal with.
HCOB: What key takeaways do you want students to take from your classroom?
Thornton: They may not all become fleet managers. They may not all become transportation managers. But when they walk away from my class, they will know how to talk to someone who is a transportation manager. They will understand the business and how to navigate it. They learn McLeod software in my class, so they will learn how to understand complex business problems, put them in a mathematical model and resolve them. They’re going to be able to learn how to route trucks and assign drivers from a company’s perspective.