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Auburn students collaborated with students and businesses in Italy through an innovative new supply chain management course. The Auburn students then competed with their Italian counterparts in the AI Challenge at the University of Trento in early December.
It’s nothing new for a group of Auburn University students to meet and do school work over a good pizza, but to do it in Italy? Welcome to the real-world education of supply chain management, says Assistant Professor Anthony Roath.
Roath and several supply chain management faculty colleagues provided a small team of Harbert students with a hands-on international project that involved collaborating with students and businesses in Italy and learning about artificial intelligence in the process.
The idea of such an international exchange began after Roath and Professor Marco Formentini, who teaches in the Department of Information Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Trento, Italy, met and worked together -- at the University of Bath, United Kingdom.
“During our time in the UK, we thought about developing a company-oriented project which involved an international collaboration that went beyond the ‘typical’ study abroad,” Roath explained. “Our ideas eventually evolved into a collaboration emphasizing an interdisciplinary approach, facilitated by the fact that Marco was embedded in an Engineering and Computer Science school. Ultimately, we wanted students to work with their foreign counterparts, who possessed different skills, to resolve a company’s problem.”
Fortunately, he said, the University of Trento began working with the Trento Innovation Hub to develop an AI company challenge. Meanwhile on Auburn’s end, Roath teamed with faculty colleague Tyler Morgan to develop the Harbert connection.
“Together, we approached the Innovation Hub, created a pilot class, aligned it with an AI-based technology class and outlined a curriculum to address the company challenge,” Roath said. “The students were divided into teams with their respective Italian counterparts and tasked with helping to build a business case to resolve the company challenge.
“To do so, they needed to work with their Italian teammates to gather, analyze and interpret the data in the context of supply chain,” he said. “Teams had to identify AI tools that would best meet the needs of the respective companies. The culmination of the class was a joint presentation to the companies on site in Italy.”
In love with Auburn
Formentini has traveled to Auburn and developed a fondness for the university and its students.
“I had the opportunity to visit Auburn in 2021 and discuss the development of joint teaching initiatives. I have enjoyed visiting Auburn a couple of times now, and it's always a pleasure to come back there,” he said. “I love the campus.”
Formentini praised the Harbert students who traveled to Italy.
“The Auburn students had the opportunity to learn technical skills related to AI from our Italian students, and to evaluate the appropriate technical solution in the context of the ‘Industrial AI Challenge’ organized in partnership with important companies,” he said.
“On the other side, the Auburn students helped our students to improve their understanding of business processes, and provided great insights to analyze the managerial impact of the proposed AI-based solutions,” Formentini said.
“And of course,” he added with emphasis, “the Auburn students had the opportunity to experience the Italian lifestyle and cuisine during their visit in Trento.”
Auburn supply chain management seniors (left to right) Shannon Robinson, Jaycie Porch and Justin Hung present their solution to their company's challenge at the University of Trento's School of Innovation.
A new life experience
Jackson Chen, a Harbert senior majoring in supply chain management and music who plans to work in a consulting firm, was one of those students.
“This trip is about learning about the challenges companies outside of the U.S. face and how they utilize artificial intelligence to address them. We also learned how different cultures conduct businesses differently,” he said.
“This is the first course that provided me the opportunity to travel to another country to meet with our counterparts. It brings whole new areas of learning, such as navigating a new transportation system, learning about how their education system runs, and collaborating across significant time zone differences,” Chen said.
He also praised Harbert’s classroom preparation for such a business career.
“There’s a combination of courses and activities that best prepared me for this engagement. I took Supply Chain Consulting with Erik Sjolseth and Supply Chain Strategy with Dr. Tyler Morgan, and these two courses taught me how to approach and solve a supply chain problem,” Chen said. “Outside of the classroom, my internships in distribution, procurement and consulting have helped as well. I could definitely say that the supply chain department at Harbert prepares its students well for a career in the supply chain field.”
Shannon Robinson, also a senior, agreed with the value gained from such an exchange.
“For me, this trip was all about getting hands-on experience with international collaboration. Our role was to consult the Masters of AI students on the business and supply chain aspects of the cases,” Robinson said. “Since September, we met weekly with our international counterparts on Zoom to discuss and help decipher the different cases. However, going to Italy and finalizing the reports in person was truly a fulfilling experience. Meeting with the students in person and getting to know them really helped me gain insight into how to communicate professionally with different cultures.”
According to Roath and Morgan, many Harbert faculty and staff helped make the Auburn-Trento course and trip a success, including Professors Glenn Richey and Jeff Long, who traveled with them to the University of Trento; Center for Supply Chain Innovation leaders Brian Gibson and Franklin Littleton, who sponsored some of the Harbert students enrolled in the course; and Assistant Dean for Global Programs Danny Butler and Supply Chain Management Chair Beth Davis-Sramek, who helped facilitate travel and logistics to Italy.
The Harbert College of Business which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Raymond and Kathryn Harbert's transformational naming gift, is a nationally ranked hub of undergraduate, graduate and continuing business education that is inspiring the next generation of business leaders. Our world-class faculty deliver unparalleled academic rigor in the classroom, while our research-driven scholarship advances thought leadership and best practice across business disciplines. The largest college on Auburn's campus, Harbert enrolls more than 6,900 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.