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Real-World Projects Give Smeal Students Experience in Solving Business Problems

Preparing students for successful careers is one of the Penn State Smeal College of Business’ primary missions, and the college has consistently ranked highly among recruiters from top companies all over the country. Part of that preparation is the real-world business problems students are tasked with solving as part of their classwork.
May 7, 2013

Preparing students for successful careers is one of the Penn State Smeal College of Business’ primary missions, and the college has consistently ranked highly among recruiters from top companies all over the country. Part of that preparation is the real-world business problems students are tasked with solving as part of their classwork.

Associate Professor of Supply Chain and Information Systems Bob Novack’s SCM 301H Supply Chain Management honors course is one such class in which students work with industry representatives from major corporations to solve real, timely business problems over the course of the semester.

“Not only are these projects great learning experiences for our students, they are generally more fun.”

“The students in SCM 301H are only sophomores, but they’re honors students, so we challenge them to do a little bit more,” said Novack. “They’re not all Supply Chain majors, but we want them to get an idea of what supply chain professionals really do. These projects get them immersed in a topic and in the company.”

Partnering with Unilever and the Hershey Company, Novack provides student teams with real supply chain problems. Student teams then spend the semester developing solutions and a presentation to deliver at the end to company executives.

“These projects are based on things the companies are actually working on,” said Novack. “The company reps know that they can throw an idea in front of these students who might, in the end, either confirm what the company was already thinking or cast the whole project in a new light with a new idea.”

Students in the Hershey section presented their final projects to company representatives in April. The projects covered a range of topics like demand planning, postponement, global expansion, and responsible product sourcing.

After each team presented, the Hershey representatives asked tough questions, encouraging the students to think on their feet and delve deeper into the ideas presented.

Students in section one, with Unilever-sponsored projects, worked on issues like outsourcing, distribution network strategy, paperboard sustainability, and an analysis of California’s Proposition 37, which has to do with labeling of genetically modified ingredients.

“Not only are these projects great learning experiences for our students, they are generally more fun,” said Novack. “Some of them are so excited after the class that we get a few more converts to the Supply Chain major.”

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