Bringing Supply Chain to 100,000+ Students by 2020: Talking to APICS’ Cheryl Dalsin (Part 2)

This is Part 2 in a two-part interview with Cheryl Dalsin, director of APICS’ Supply Chain STEM Educational Outreach Program. Part 1 covered the program’s beginning and initial phases of expansion.

Spend Matters: In the first half of the interview, we spoke about how the program began with a simple activity on lemonade that you did in 2011 with your daughter’s class. Then it expanded, rather serendipitously, through word-of-mouth. At the time, you were working at Intel. Now you’re at APICS, who sponsors the program.

Cheryl Dalsin: I haven't even been at APICS a year yet. I joined the end of June last year. So up to that point the program was driven primarily through Intel employee volunteerism. Intel corporate affairs and community engagement had preexisting relationships with local schools, and that was one avenue to engage with schools.

But [in addition], employees on both the supply chain and the engineering sides heard about the program and wanted to bring it to their own children’s classrooms. It really spread by volunteerism. Parents who were Intel employees heard about it, and they brought it to their kids’ classrooms, and then it started to grow from there. Then we had passionate volunteers who wanted to bring it to other schools. It has primarily been a volunteer-driven model.

What is new, and with this new advisory committee we kicked off with APICS, is again continuing the volunteer model but really trying to work it so that we can make it teacher-friendly and so that teachers have the ability and ease to bring it into their classrooms, or if they have an after school program, to really help that way to get the word out.

SM: How did APICS come to sponsor the program?

CD: It's a fun story. We had reached, through Intel volunteerism, over 15,000 students globally. So we had gotten to a point where the demand for the program from our local schools exceeded the number of volunteers we had, and we wanted to take it to the next level. There was a vision of creating a nonprofit where industry, academia and professional organizations would unite under a common umbrella to proactively address the supply chain talent gap.

Intel used the “Shark Tank” process. [“Shark Tank” is a reality show where entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a panel of potential investors.] Anybody in the organization, and it’s a 100,000-person organization, could submit an idea. So I submitted the idea of [taking] our Intel volunteer program to the next level. They opened it up to employee voting, [and the people behind the] top five ideas were flown to California, where we presented to our top VPs and then pitched our idea to them at a conference. So it was very exciting, very fun.

A gal who worked at Intel whom I had never met before happened to be on the APICS board of directors. She reached out to me and said, "Have you reached out to professional supply chain organizations?" And I said, "Well, a couple years ago we got the teaching innovations award from the CSCMP [Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals], and I presented there with Judy Whipple. We were doing a local pilot with ISM [Institute of Supply Management] in Phoenix with Boys and Girls Clubs." She said, "Well what about APICS?" I said, "Well I don't know anybody at APICS. I haven't reached out to them." She said, “Well, now you do.”

Then Abe [Eshkenazi, CEO of APICS] heard about the program. Abe is very passionate about promoting the future of supply chain and supply chain talent. We invited Abe, CSCMP and ISM to a kickoff meeting we had in Phoenix. APICS really was able to step up and brought me on board to take our program to the next level. So I’m very thrilled to be here and see the program grow.

SM: And the program has ambitious goals as well. I read that the aim is to reach more than 100,000 students by 2020. Do you work through after-school activities, or is the program built into school curriculums?

CD: It started [out] where volunteers would go into the classroom during the school day. That's still very much a viable path. It's really exciting to have volunteers in the classroom. The students relate differently to a volunteer than to a teacher.

I've kicked off a new advisory committee, which incorporates the three people I mentioned prior, but we also pulled in K-12 and community college teachers to create a teacher-led model. So teachers have the ability to do the activities themselves in class or with an after-school program. The activities are short enough that they lend themselves to many different applications.

SM: What kinds of teachers do you approach? Math teachers? Science teachers?

CD: Yes, [also] economics teachers. I'm working with a math teacher and an engineering teacher from middle school right now to do a four-day summer camp. Most teachers have not heard about supply chain. If you do get into a high school with a business teacher or an econ teacher, they may have heard about supply chain.

SM: Do you envision having a high school course dedicated to supply chain one day, such as a “Supply Chain Management 101” class? Is that viable?

CD: I love to dream big. So yes, I think that's very viable. The first step though is [making] “supply chain” a common, everyday word, [in that] people understand it like they understand “engineer” or “doctor.” Kids walk into a grocery store with their parents, and they understand that the bananas didn't magically appear there. There's a supply chain that got it there, and it didn't start off in my home state.

We've seen first graders who have done the lemonade activity. One little girl drew out the entire supply chain for lemonade, starting with the farmer planting the lemon tree and ending with her mom going to buy lemonade at the grocery store.

Future CPO?

SM: That is so impressive.

CD: They get it, so it’s just about exposing them to it.

SM: Do you know of any high school students who took part in the program who went on to major in supply chain in college? Do you have any data on that?

CD: That’s hard to keep stats on because of privacy, [but] we have worked with a high school in Harlem [in New York City] that focuses on supply chain and engineering. We actually had some undergraduate students from Arizona State University lead [supply chain] activities there on their spring break. I’m confident that some of those kids are going into supply chain as a career.

SM: It’s certainly a great career.

CD: Yes, we would like high school students to understand, first of all, what supply chain is. Secondly, [we want them to] understand that there's a very exciting and lucrative career path in supply chain management if they're inspired in that. It is a career path that very much involves STEM. It's very flexible. It's very diverse, dynamic, challenging, [and there is the chance to learn] something new every day. I think the uniqueness of the program is the focus on supply chain and creating awareness with supply chain and its close connection to STEM.

SM: It’s easy to get involved too. All the materials are on the program’s website, and I was able to download them easily.

CD: It's an open-sharing program. The materials are free for anybody who wants to download them. So it's not just for supply chain professionals. It's educators, teachers, parents, anybody who wants to learn more about what supply chain management is. That's the intent of our program.

There's a real driver behind it. It's the talent gap that we hear a lot about — the STEM gap. You see a lot of STEM academies and commercials on TV about STEM-based careers. We have the same with supply chain, but nobody knows about it unless you're specifically working in supply chain.

It's a fun program. It's a great way to inspire the next generation. Whether they pursue a career in supply chain or they consider a STEM-based career, whichever path they take, knowing the importance and significance of supply chain will only make them more ready and more valuable as they grow into their future career.

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