Jan 26, 2022 - Business

Can supply chain studies be sexy? University of Arkansas bets on yes

U of A graduates hold a sign reading "#1 Supply Chain"
University of Arkansas supply chain management alumni show off their employers and hold "The Sign." More posts can be seen at #WaltonSupplyChain. Photos: Courtesy Brian Fugate/University of Arkansas

The University of Arkansas' department of supply chain management is having a moment.

What's happening: The undergrad program was ranked #1 in 2020 by consulting company Gartner.

  • A 12-year-old's handmade sign touting this fact has traveled the world, going viral on LinkedIn.

Why it matters: Each year, 250-plus graduates enter the workforce from U of A with a global perspective on moving, say pharmaceuticals, from manufacturer to medicine cabinet.

  • The recent publicity is attracting top students to Fayetteville's campus and should bolster Northwest Arkansas' reputation as a supply chain and logistics hub.

The big picture: A once arcane industry is now super sexy thanks to the pandemic. Demand for a smooth-running system is greater than ever as "last mile" delivery by autonomous truck or drone becomes the expectation rather than the exception.

  • The global supply chain management market in 2020 was valued at $15.8 billion and is expected to reach nearly $31 billion by 2026, according to one report.

Context: Supply chain management at U of A's Sam M. Walton College of Business was under the marketing department until 2011 when it became its own program. It's now the fifth-largest such program in the U.S., department chair Brian Fugate told Axios.

  • It was traditionally focused on transportation and retail given the industries in NWA. But largely due to the globalization of the supply chain, the program has expanded in recent years to include sourcing and manufacturing.
  • "Supply chain is really broad to make all those pieces fit together," Fugate said. "So, you know, our curriculum needs to reflect that as well."

Going viral: "The Sign," as it's become known, was a bit of a fluke. Fugate's son, Luke, and daughter, Ally, made it so dad would take them to the on-camera taping of ESPN's College GameDay ahead of a Razorback football game.

  • It worked and was seen in the background.
  • Then Fugate's students began asking if they could take it to out-of-town games. Then alumni wanted selfies with it in front of their employers' signs.
  • It's now traveled most of the U.S. and to Panama and Germany.

The bottom line: Companies that previously hadn't had a recruiting relationship with U of A began calling after seeing "The Sign," Fugate said.

  • "That's what's cool about the whole thing, is that it's helping students and that's what it's all about," he said.

Of note: Voting on Gartner's 2022 undergraduate programs is open until Jan. 31.

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