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Beyond the Classroom: Lenoir-Rhyne students gain exposure to local business operations and management
Beyond the Classroom: Lenoir-Rhyne students gain exposure to local business operations and management

Ten undergraduate students from Lenoir-Rhyne University are participating in a course that yields insights into how real-life companies have turned managerial and operational strategies into sustained competitive advantages. It leverages a unique educational approach that moves beyond classroom lectures.

The course, Production and Operations Management, counts as credit for management majors and an elective for entrepreneurship majors. Throughout the semester, students toured more than a half dozen locations and were required to relate the information from the chapter material in their textbooks to the various sites visited. They were also asked to determine opportunities for improvement at each site as a classroom discussion.

Students gained exposure to local companies leading their industries including Belk, BirdDog Logistics, Carolina Container, Shurtape Technologies, Hickory Brands, Inc., and Transportation Insight. They also had the opportunity to tour facilities and engage with employees who are developing and executing innovative practices.

Jamie Conrad, LRU Coordinator of Experiential Learning and Outreach and the faculty champion of these visits, says that the course challenges students to make connections between academic theory and real-world practice.

"I want them engaged at each visit, asking questions and gaining a deeper understanding of the concepts these businesses use in execution," Conrad said. "The course also helps students integrate concepts from previous courses and gain valuable exposure to operations and management."

During the tours, students gained valuable insight into how each business works, their unique cultures, and how different roles and functions work together within companies. Students were also given the opportunity to ask questions ranging from how each company reacts to particular challenges in the market to what the work environment is like.

Jaxon Bounds, senior management major, appreciated the logistics and competitive spirit at Transportation Insight.

"I especially liked the environment at Transportation Insight," Bounds said. "They have different positions within teams that work together to provide the best solution for a customer need. That's the kind of experience I want to gain so I can apply it to the field after graduation."

He also noted that Transportation Insight has a culture that supports its staff and offers a gym with basketball courts for employees and their families – a perk for today's millennials.

Ian Chapman, senior management major, was very impressed with Carolina Container. "As a company, Carolina Container takes the large concepts and adds in the small details to be successful," Chapman said. "Employees hold each other accountable, which is ingrained into their employee culture. The tours reaffirmed concepts we were learning in class. Seeing the real-life applications, instead of just reading about them in a textbook, helped support those concepts."

Danielle Stilwell, Human Resources Manager at Carolina Container, provided a tour and exploration of the corrugated industry. "In 17 years as an HR professional, face-to-face interaction provides the key to unlock doors for future opportunities," Stilwell said. "LRU students are some of the most well-rounded students in the area. In order for our company to continue to grow, change and new perspectives are necessary. Students provide a fresh set of perspectives."

Stilwell, an LRU alumna and graduate of the Charles M. Snipes School of Business and Economics, said providing the tour was a privilege. "I feel a responsibility as an LRU alum to pay it forward to the LRU community when so much was given to me during my time as a student," she said. "I am hopeful the students gleaned a deeper appreciation for the corrugated industry. In past years, the stereotype for manufacturing is that it's a dirty industry with no future opportunities. This is far from true. Our industry is thriving, providing rewarding opportunities for anyone."

Conrad confirms that her course further benefits students by providing a dynamic learning environment that merges traditional education with practical experience. Additional student benefits include learning about local job markets, meeting with working professionals, and becoming familiar with a specific company's missions, values, recruiting strategies, and industry trends.

For Juwan Underwood, senior entrepreneurship and management major, the exposure to BirdDog Logistics confirmed their interest in sales.

"I'm a people person so I liked the sales side of BirdDog," Underwood stated. "When I complete an internship, the exposure to these local companies will provide me with some networking opportunities."

Conrad is one business school professor who is moving beyond books and lectures to take a hands-on approach to getting the students to better understand the business industry. These unique opportunities showcase her instruction a broad, deep, and continually refreshed perspective on key industry trends and developments.

Editor's Note: Students met with Julie Huffman, LRU alumna and senior vice president of Hickory Brands, where she introduced them to the challenges in forecasting in a specialty manufacturer's setting and talked about the global competition the company faces. (Pictured left to right) John Curtis, Juwan Underwood, Jacob Turner, Tristan Pace, Ian Chapman, Julie Huffman (senior vice president), Alex Crespo Sanchez, Luis Lopez Malo, Jaxon Bounds, Tomas Hons, Myles Braswell Sample, and Cary Moore (operations manager).