Supply Chain Management for the K-12 Crowd: Talking to APICS’ Cheryl Dalsin (Part 1)

This is Part 1 in a two-part interview with Cheryl Dalsin, director of APICS’ Supply Chain STEM Educational Outreach Program.

Ask children what they want to be when they grow up, and you’ll get answers ranging from astronaut to teacher to president — but, let’s be frank, it’s not that wide of a range. You probably haven’t heard a child say, “I want to be a supply chain manager when I grow up!”

As APICS Director of Academic Outreach Cheryl Dalsin points out, part of the reason is that many adults haven’t heard of supply chain careers either, and it may be more a matter of name recognition than understanding what the profession does. In other words, the average person may not really know what an engineer or the president does from day to day, but these are well-known job titles.

Since 2011, Dalsin has been working to combat the much-ballyhooed talent gap by instilling interest in supply chain careers in younger generations — that is, K-12 students. In the first half of the interview, she spoke with Spend Matters on how the Supply Chain STEM Educational Outreach Program came into being and how students, teachers and parents reacted. (Hint: there was both enthusiasm and confusion.)

Spend Matters: The program has an interesting beginning. It really started in 2011 with just you doing an activity with your daughter’s elementary school class on lemonade — how it’s made and where the different ingredients come from.

Cheryl Dalsin: It was really intended to be only a one-time activity for my daughter's class. She was in first grade. At the time I was working for Intel. It was an Intel Day activity, and the intent was to get her, Lily, and her class really excited about science. At the very start I wasn't thinking about supply chain, but in doing the activity, when I looked through the supply chain aspect of it, it was everywhere there — supply chain and STEM working together.

At the end of the activity, [the students] were so fired up about science and about Intel. All of them wanted to work for Intel, and in turn they inspired me that this one-time thing needed to be something so much more. So I fondly call that class the catalyst class. And they were the ones [behind the] inspiration for creating a supply chain and STEM outreach [program].

Cheryl Dalsin with her daughter’s first-grade class in 2011.

SM: And then the program was born. The next step was reaching some 600 students in the Phoenix area, correct?

CD: Yes, so the next step was then reaching out to universities. Judy Whipple from Michigan State University, Jim Rice from MIT, and John Fowler from Arizona State University kind of became an advisory committee. I pulled together some passionate volunteers from Intel, and we created a program that we piloted at a couple of schools in Arizona. One school was my daughter’s school, and then the other school was another charter school, but they came later. So we did a phase-one and phase-two pilot, [and] that was the 600 students we reached. We really worked closely with teachers on getting the activities nice and robust before we started to expand beyond just the two schools in Arizona.

SM: What were some of the initial reactions from teachers or parents?

CD: The teachers are first like, "What is supply chain? What do you mean you have a supply chain program?” So it [was about] creating awareness of the concept of supply chain and how supply chain and STEM are so closely integrated. It was really eye opening for teachers. They loved the activities. They blended together so many things — team building, problem solving, practical applicability to everyday life. Center for Educational Excellence [a charter school in Tempe, Ariz.], for example, created an afterschool lemonade stand to raise money for a charity. So they took that whole “source, make, deliver” model and really applied it.

Getting an early start.

SM: What about the parents? I imagine many of them haven’t heard of supply chain either.

CD: I did not have a lot of direct contact with the parents because it was a volunteer-based program. But one of the students from an activity that I had led went home and was very excited about it and told her mom about this program they did. It turns out that school had a concert that night. I randomly sat in the back row and met this lady who was this daughter's mom. So long story short, she heard about the program for her daughter [and] realized I was the one who led it. She was [Beatriz Rendón], the CEO of ASU Preparatory Academy charter schools, and she said, “I want your program in my schools.” And [ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy] became our phase-two pilot school.

Now that APICS has sponsored the program and has really taken it to the next level, we want to engage more with parents. Parents need to understand the importance of supply chain and how great these careers and supply chain management can be.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which Dalsin discusses how APICS became the sponsor of what is now the Supply Chain STEM Educational Outreach Program and their big plans for the future.

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