As the University of Missouri campuses began preparations to move to remote teaching and telework in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Professor Jim Noble in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering (IMSE) was preparing for the Center for Excellence in Logistics and Distribution (CELDi) spring meeting and research symposium. Noble is the MU site director of CELDi, a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center.
On March 11, Noble talked to an industry partner who said his team could not travel to the symposium.
“That’s when we made the decision to convert this to a virtual symposium,” he said. “We had three weeks to go virtual. In many regards, we’d all been using Zoom anyway. The hardest part was making sure we cancelled everything we had set in motion, like food and accommodations.”
The spring symposium keynote addresses had already planned to focus on supply chain risk and supply chain transformation. Tim Murnin, the director of supply chain strategy and operations for the Boeing Company, was tapped as the morning keynote speaker to discuss supply chain risk. Grant Taylor, vice president of logistics for North America Schneider Electric, was chosen to present on supply chain transformation.
“The keynote speakers both modified their presentations to make it COVID-related,” Noble said. “Issues related to risk and how to configure supply chains for redundancy were discussed. At that point in time, the big issue was the lack of personal protective equipment, so we were looking at, ‘How do you create a resilient supply chain?’ That resiliency comes at a cost, so the key thing is figuring out which parts of the supply chain are critical.”
Despite the switch to a virtual format and a modification of the topics, Noble says day-long virtual event went well, with 49 participants from across the country representing five universities and six industry partners.
Following Murnin’s keynote address on the morning of April 1, attendees listened to a series of 20-minute presentations from company and university researchers. After the presentations, Noble said they created a brainstorming session, led by Randolph Bradley of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, titled “CELDi Operations-Research Vision for Industry/Academia Discussion in 19 Minutes (aka COVID-19).
Typically, the afternoon includes a student poster presentation competition where students all stand in front of their posters and give an “elevator speech” on their work.
“Instead, we gave each student six minutes to present their research and four minutes to answer questions,” Noble said. “It wasn’t as rich as it could have been had we been in person, but all of the students got to present and get feedback.”
A student mentoring session followed the poster presentations, with small groups of students assigned to Zoom breakout rooms with a company representative for a chance to ask questions about careers. Noble and other CELDi site directors used that time to score posters and select outstanding students for awards.
Grace Floyd, a sophomore at MU, was named Outstanding Undergraduate at the CELDi symposium. Since 2018, Floyd has been working on a Schneider Electric project addressing make-to-order inventory optimization. The awards panel noted Floyd “exhibits impressive analytic skills as the sole undergraduate member of a research team.”
“She is very impressive—we forget that she’s a sophomore,” Noble said.
Zeynab Oveysi, a doctoral student at MU, was named Outstanding Graduate Researcher. She also works on the Schneider Electric research project, developing forecasting tools that culminated in a desktop application deployed to Schneider staff. Her mentor, IMSE Associate Professor Ronald McGarvey, said “I am confident that her successes will continue into her future development as a leading logistics researcher.”
Students from Oklahoma State University and the University of Arkansas won the poster contest.
Noble says the successful virtual symposium demonstrated supply chain meeting resiliency.
“We quickly adapted to it and I felt like we came across with something that met our needs,” he said. Noble noted that CELDi symposiums in the past were held once each semester, but after CELDi became a graduated (i.e. self-sufficient) NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center in 2018, the symposia became an annual event. He said with the success of this spring’s virtual event, they may revert to holding a symposium each semester—one virtual and one in-person.