Patrick Carrington said that the capstone project he did to complete his Clemson University master’s degree helped open new opportunities for him at his job with electric-bus manufacturer Proterra.
“It got me noticed, said Carrington, now a launch manager at the company. “The capstone project I did for my master’s program was also presented to our COO, senior directors and vice presidents. It was important enough for it to be viewed by executive team members.”
Carrington is among about 300 students from five continents to receive a Master of Engineering in industrial engineering as part of a program that has been offered entirely online since its launch in 2008.
Courses have been primarily focused on supply chain logistics. But as the program enters its 13th year, faculty members are starting to broaden the curriculum to reflect the rapid growth of e-commerce and reach a wider range of students, said Bill Ferrell, the Fluor-Clemson International Capital Supply Chain Partnership Professor in Industrial Engineering.
“We will be talking less about moving large pallets and a lot more about the e-commerce side and moving small packages,” he said. “Content is going to evolve as our consumerism evolves and as the sourcing evolves. This program is right in the middle of the way we buy and sell things in the real world in 2020, and I see the same trends continuing into 2030 or 2040.”
The program is 100% online and asynchronous, which means lectures are recorded, and students can watch whenever and wherever is convenient for them.
One student downloaded lectures to his laptop and completed the entire program while flying between England and the Middle East for work. Another student, who worked for a defense contractor in Afghanistan, recalled hearing sirens to warn of incoming mortars while studying.
Kristen Taylor said that for her last semester, she was working in Santiago, Chile for Fluor Corporation and would study from her hotel room at night.
“I didn’t have to skip a beat with my career responsibilities, and nothing suffered in my graduate program,” said Taylor, now a supply chain manager in Fluor’s life sciences business group. “When you have a program that allows you to do that, that’s the best.”
It takes three years and a semester to finish the program. Cohorts start each summer, and about 25-30 students graduate each August.
Each student completes the program with a capstone project directly relevant to industry needs. Several companies, including Fluor Corporation, have been able to use some capstone projects as company initiatives.
Students have to be at least three years past receiving their undergraduate degree to enroll. Most are about 5-10 years into their careers and are just beginning to take on supervisory roles, Ferrell said.
An undergraduate degree in a STEM field isn’t needed to enroll. About half the students have business degrees, and about half have STEM backgrounds, Ferrell said.
When Carrington enrolled, he had a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master of Business from Clemson. Taylor had a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and international trade.
Students come from companies in industries ranging from automotive and aerospace to package delivery and advanced manufacturing.
Fluor Corporation was instrumental in launching the program and has been a big supporter throughout its history. The company has provided two endowments totaling $3.5 million to the program, Ferrell said.
Mike Wheeler, senior vice president of supply chain and chief procurement officer for Fluor, said the master’s program has been a cornerstone for the company’s skill development, especially for leadership.
“We want our young, up-and-coming leaders to go through this program so they can enhance their leadership skills and be better technical stewards of supply chain management and logistics,” he said. “It’s been a piece of our whole transformation of our people. From our perspective, it’s going extremely well.”
Fluor now has 15 students in the program, and about 60 graduates of the program. The company has started a scholarship program for international students, many of whom have less access to tuition reimbursement than their colleagues in the United States.
As industry demands have evolved, so too have courses in the program, Ferrell said.
“The focus of our program has always been supply chain, but we were pretty specialized at the beginning with capital projects,” he said. “And now we have made an evolution to supply chain logistics. We moved the program in the last three or four years to a more 2021-way to look at the world.”
The median annual wage for logisticians was $74,750 in May 2019, and the highest 10% earned more than $120,400, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Overall job opportunities should be good because of employment growth and the need to replace logisticians who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force, such as to retire,” according to the bureau. “Prospects should be best for candidates who have experience using logistical software or doing logistical work for the military.”
Ferrell said that when the program started, most of the students came from fewer than 10 companies. Now it’s closer to 25.
“We have a proven program,” he said, “and a huge untapped market.”
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