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Student Experiences

Plan Like a Pioneer

Many nineteenth-century members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints trekked more than a thousand miles across North America, pulling handcarts loaded with supplies and other precious possessions for the journey.

Out of necessity, they “had to be good logisticians,” says Scott Webb, associate teaching professor of global supply chain at BYU Marriott. “They were moving out west from city to city and founding cities. Those are all things that you have to plan for.”

Carrying on that cultural heritage, Webb says that many of the biggest carriers in the Western United States were founded by members of the Church. He invokes this legacy as he teaches his students to be great logisticians themselves.

In Global Supply Chain Management 404: Supply Chain Logistics, students learn planning and execution of inventory and all the processes surrounding it, Webb says. In other words, logistics includes everything that occurs between you placing an order online and the arrival of that package on your doorstep. Because the field of logistics is largely behind the scenes, many supply-chain professionals’ work goes unnoticed unless something goes wrong.

If an order doesn’t arrive on time, it causes problems throughout the entire business supply chain. I train these students in how to make high-quality decisions before things go bad.

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One project requires students to sift through more than 45,000 rows of data in a spreadsheet.
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Webb uses an analogy of a three-legged stool to explain the key skills of a logistician. Effective decision-making, incisive questioning and analysis, and quality presentations are each equally important; and like the legs of a stool, if one of them is underdeveloped, it throws off the balance of the whole.

To give his students hands-on experience with analysis, Webb asks them to complete several projects he describes as “messy.” Solely teaching math and economics makes for a disconnected class, he explains. “Instead, I give students various projects where they discover and learn about the complexity of the problem and allow them to dig to understand how it all actually works,” he says. One project requires students to sift through more than 45,000 rows of data in a spreadsheet from a real company to determine ways to best save the company money.

Another important takeaway from the class is learning to present with finesse. Webb instructs his students in slide design, elocution, and body language to “raise the level of the messenger to that of the message,” he says. These skills have been particularly important for course teaching assistant Olivia Smith. “This course showed me that I have a knack for presenting and, as a result, has instilled in me a new sense of confidence,” she says.

Another course TA, Luana Tu’ua, says Webb’s class has been a highlight of her coursework. “Professor Webb challenged us to become strong thinkers, analysts, and leaders in an environment with others,” she says.

These skills are exactly what Webb hopes students will take away from the class. “I want them to learn how to take initiative and apply these principles to real problems and fix them,” he says.

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Article written by Clarissa McIntire