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Two important needs were met when Erik Sjolseth’s Supply Chain Consulting class made semester-ending project presentations after months of hard work: Ideas were shared for streamlined service in providing greater food security, and students got a much-needed taste of working for real-world clients interested in their help.
Jack Hixson presents the cloud-based system that his team created to track Food U foods grown throughout campus, while Ethan Macht transcribes feedback from the clients.
Sjolseth is an adjunct professor at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, and his class consistently is ranked by students as one of their favorites. It follows a common thread throughout Harbert of putting business students into actual networking opportunities and business environments as part of their preparation for post-graduation careers.
“The purpose of the class is to help the students learn how to excel in whatever profession they choose,” Sjolseth said. “Specifically, we focus on how to ask good questions: How to find root cause of business challenges and determine the best course of action, learn leadership attributes, and learn how to network effectively in order to get embedded in professions they will truly enjoy.”
“Doing the project puts all of these into play,” he added. “They get a chance to encounter unexpected problems, structure issues so they find solutions on the fly, and navigate real team dynamics where the project results actually matter to a business, not just affect a grade.”
Networking, and more networking
The 2022 fall semester class was divided into two teams, one working with Food U and another with Campus Food Pantry. Each applied the skills they learned in supply chain management and consulting to streamline work ranging from food storage to inventory to distribution, among other needs.
“Our mission was to provide the Campus Food Pantry with a user-friendly and discrete way of tracking inventory and collecting data,” said team leader Solomon Hall. “I believe in the importance of this project due to the positive effect it could have on food-insecure populations on Auburn’s campus.
“The tracking of inventory could also act as a catalyst for Campus Food Pantry funding, which would ultimately provide more food to people who need it.”
Hall also cited the opportunity for its role in his future business career.
“I think the importance of real-world experience such as this project cannot be understated. Not only do prospective employers seek candidates with real-world experience, but once your career starts, you can lean on the lessons learned from a project such as this,” he said.
“Harbert College of Business does an exceptional job getting students in front of employers and people to network with, specifically the supply chain program,” Hall said. “Supply chain career fairs, ‘lunch and learns’ and networking events have sparked numerous opportunities for me and my peers.
“Throughout the course of this semester, Professor Sjolseth consistently invited brilliant people and quality companies into class for us to network with. I’ve truly never been in a class that presented the number of networking opportunities that this one did.”
Daniel Wells, professor of horticulture, explains all the supply-chain steps on how
food is grown on university farms.
‘Eye-opening for any field’
Mary Ballard led the Food U team and made similar observations.
“My team’s mission was to create a cloud-based system to track Food U foods grown throughout campus,” she said. “We were challenged with creating an optimized system that tracks harvesting from aquaponics and freight farms, tracks deliveries to Tiger Dining locations across campus, processes requests from chefs across campus, and creates a center for all billing items to be processed,” all with the potential to be expanded in the future.
“By creating this system in Smartsheet, Food U is able to automate parts of its system, allowing a more efficient and effective flow of communication between all respective parties,” Ballard said.
She also praised the business experience gained from the on-site visits to food facilities and the networking involved in meeting Food U personnel.
“Experience that this class gives is eye-opening for any field you desire to be a part, as working with actual clients opens a broader perspective as to the challenges you may face in the working world,” Ballard said.
Harbert, in all of its degree programs, offers excellent networking experience, she said. “I have been blessed with many opportunities to travel with the Harbert College of Business to different conferences and symposiums. During these events I was able to learn about the industry of supply chain that I desire to be a part of, as well as network with potential internship and post-college employers.”
Sjolseth, meanwhile, enjoys what he sees develop with his students.
“I find a sense of accomplishment in so many different ways with each class,” he said. “Every semester is filled with lots of ‘proud dad moments.’ I love seeing my students tackle an issue that an organization is grappling with and finding a brilliant solution for it.
“It’s so rewarding to watch the growth in students,” he said. “Sometimes it’s growth in leadership areas, and other times it’s finding a way to accomplish something that has seemed impossible for much of the project. That breakthrough moment is always amazing. The student then realizes they can do things that seem impossible.
“The students truly do run the projects, so the wins they have really are their own.”