From Ames to China, supply chain students follow the life of an imported product


Courtesy of Scott Grawe

Iowa State students tour a Shanghai port as part of a supply chain course.

Jared Coady

Iowa State supply chain students are preparing to spend spring break following a product from Target in Ames all the way back to China. The course, SCM 491, began in 2013 and is led by Associate Dean Scott Grawe and professor Haozhe Chen.

Students who enroll in this course meet a few times throughout the semester to prepare for a spring break abroad following the supply chain of a product back to where it started in China.

This year the students will be following furniture from the Target store in Ames to warehouses and distribution centers in Cedar Falls and California, and finally back to a factory in Shanghai. Along the way, students are asking questions and working on case questions to solve real problems for Target.

“We wanted to put together a study abroad trip that was more than just a tour of the culture,” Grawe said. “While that is interesting, it doesn’t necessarily help students think through the problem solving they need to have when doing business across international borders.”

A few weeks after students return from China, they will take a trip to Target’s corporate headquarters in Minneapolis to present their findings in front of senior leadership.

Haley Ruegemer, a senior in supply chain management, is one of the students that took part in the program during the spring break of 2017.

“The whole thing was really eye opening,” Ruegemer said. “Being able to see the ports both domestically and abroad was a really cool experience. Most people aren’t allowed to go on the port where they’re loading and unloading cargo ships, so being able to see that up close and personal was really amazing.”

Grawe said students who go on this trip are getting a chance to see something that few people ever get to see.

“We’re taking twenty students and visiting the entire supply chain for a particular product, even most employees at Target never get a chance to see all that,” Grawe said.

Prior to getting his doctorate, Grawe worked at Target headquarters managing supply chain operations. After coming to Iowa State, Grawe wanted to give students a new unique opportunity.

“After I got here to Iowa State I spent some time with my old boss at Target talking about how can we get our students in Iowa exposure to supply chain operations on the coasts and overseas and get a chance to see some of the things that I saw working for Target, and so we put this program together,” Grawe said. “Target provided access to the facilities that we needed access to, but we essentially just created a new course that traced the supply chain backwards from the store here in Ames all the way the factory in China.”