Supply Chain students gain experience with industry leader

ECU supply chain management students get their photo taken next to a sign of a Greenville-area company.

One could argue any number of reasons why College of Business supply chain graduates are ready for the workforce after graduation. The College’s Leadership and Professional Development Curriculum, internship opportunities and instructors with real-world experiences are some examples.

Another reason is the opportunities our students have to work with industry.

Topics in Operations Management taught by supply chain management faculty wrapped up work at the end of the spring ’21 term. This particular class included three student-led teams consisting of four students per team. The purpose of the class is twofold. First, students can hone their problem-solving and project management skills by working with and learning from their partner-company counterparts to gain corporate experience and hone their problem-solving and project management skills. Second, the partnering companies have the opportunity to work with supply chain students to gain their help in addressing important problems and issues.

“All of the company-assigned projects are related to supply chain and operations management and run the course of the semester,” said Dr. Jon Kirchoff, associate supply chain management professor.

During the past spring term, one particular company turned to the supply chain students to provide recommendations and solutions for its procurement and outsource inventory.


Penco Products, Inc. is a supplier of steel lockers, shelving products, and material handling solutions in North America. It has two facilities in Eastern North Carolina:  a modern 375,000 sq. ft. plant in Hamilton and the corporate headquarters in Greenville.

The company agreed to a project that would include insights into creating a more organized, fluid and effective means of purchasing, storing and managing inventory, both domestically and overseas.  The students addressed three primary concerns for Penco: minimum and maximum inventory safety stock levels, inventory lead times, and carrying costs of internationally procured components.

Jim Hardee, Penco’s procurement director, decided to work with the supply chain students because of the company’s familiarity with the College of Business.

“Penco has worked with ECU on past projects, and it wanted to engage students to give them ‘real-world’ experience with a company outside of the academic world,” said Hardee. “Students can read about operations and supply chain management all day long, but they need to experience it to really understand and see it.”

About the project, Hardee says he wanted the students to “learn about and analyze the operations and supply chain management issues facing Penco with fresh eyes. I wanted them to formulate solutions and ideas that Penco might not have thought of at that point.”

“I don’t think that I could have had a better experience working with my teammates and Penco,” said student Emma Christensen.  “I loved getting hands-on experience in supply chain directly with a company.  You can learn from lectures, quizzes, and others as much as possible, but one will never get a real feel for the area they are studying until they get hands-on experience.  I feel that this class gave me the opportunity to do this”

Ultimately, the team’s recommendations allow for better ordering accuracy, less inventory, and higher space and cost efficiencies. Hardee told us that he thought the team presentation was very informative and that it was well-received by Penco management.

“The students opened up Penco to new ideas about how to handle some of their international supply chain operations,” said Hardee. “Penco will be able to use the team’s recommendations and information in their future decision making.”

He added, “we are very interested in working with ECU (and the College of Business) again on projects.”

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