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In the wake of the novel coronavirus, anything from toilet paper to electronic parts are disappearing on the shelves, becoming unavailable from big-name suppliers, or seeing their prices skyrocket. Amid the ongoing disruption, one promising area of study surfaces: the global supply chain, which used to be felt only on the rungs of business wanting to serve and please customers.


It’s high time for students to explore the supply chain as COVID-19 will ultimately affect every industry possible, said Dr. Haitao Li, professor of supply chain and analytics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Business Administration (UMSL).

Supply chain management

Significant disruptions such as the pandemic creates risk, leading to supply shortages or a steep climb in demand for specific products. 


“With Chinese manufacturers shutting down their operations, U.S. manufacturers’ global supply chain ultimately takes a hit,” Li said. “In the same vein, it’s not surprising to see a toilet paper shortage from the supply chain perspective: this product’s supply chain usually expects a longer lead time, so you will face an imminent shortage once the demand increases overnight due to panic buying.”


Its Supply Chain and Analytics department, formerly known as Logistics and Operations Management, is promoted by UMSL as the home of the most comprehensive supply chain program in Missouri. It is deemed a great opportunity to leverage analytics in the domain of supply chain management, which covers the entire process from purchasing and sourcing through production or service delivery, to distribution to the end consumer. 


Pending state approval, the department will also soon offer the Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Supply Chain and Analytics program, which aims to cultivate the next generation of “citizen data scientists” who bridge the gap between supply chain professionals and pure data scientists.

Applied research in post-pandemic environment

Their faculty and students, according to Li, are involved not just in theory but also in a wide range of applied research initiatives. Faculty members are using their expertise to help mitigate the pandemic’s effects; humanitarian logistics and healthcare supply chain experts Trilce Encarnacio and Shakiba Enayati, for instance, will join UMSL in the fall semester. The Supply Chain Risk and Resilience Research Institute (SCR3), headed by Prof. George Zsdisin, is coordinating researchers around the world working on supply chain risk management and understanding best practices in industry. 


Before the COVID-19 pandemic started to ravage entire industries and economies, Li and Prof. James Campbell have also started a three-year study, funded by the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), on using drones to deliver vaccines in less developed regions. 


“We seek to delve deep into both the strategic network design and operational side, or how we can more effectively send vaccines to health workers and optimize delivery routes and schedules,” said Li of their research conducted in the South Pacific Island of Vanuatu.


Another ongoing collaborative project with Express Scripts, led by Li and Prof. Andrea Hupman, addresses the supply risks and mitigation in the pharmaceutical benefit management industry.

For Li, there has to be a strong regard for the social good in an increasingly vulnerable post-coronavirus world. “It’s the application of knowledge and data-driven decision-making in disrupted times like this that should serve as a barometer of learning,” he added.


He recommends the supply chain and analytics program not only for domestic students in the United States but also for international students with various backgrounds.


“Most of these learners are inclined to study math, engineering, and statistics – and they can find a viable option in this business field for a stable and socially relevant career,” said Suneetha Qureshi, Vice President – Global at MSM, the university’s exclusive partner in its student recruitment efforts in India


Supply chain management was recently recognized as the most recommended major by Payscale.com, at 92% recommendation rate. The median salary of supply chain professionals is around $80,000, according to the 2019 Supply Chain Salary and Career Survey Report of the ASCM. 


UMSL is the largest public research university in eastern Missouri. Spread across 470 acres in suburban St. Louis County, the institution is home to more than 16,000 students and welcomes international students coming from over 70 countries. 

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