Student Research Engagement

In the same context, the Center for Supply Chain Research®️ (CSCR®️) believes next to internships and co-ops, working with the Center’s corporate sponsors on a collaborative research project is perhaps the next best opportunity to prepare students for the professional setting they will experience when they graduate. Thus, CSCR provides our corporate sponsors the opportunity to submit real research projects to collaborate on with our top supply chain students.

When learning to become a basketball player, being told how to play the game, watching others play, and even understanding the rules of the game are mostly ineffective if you never “shoot the ball.” That is because the most effective way to learn is by doing.

In the same context, the Center for Supply Chain Research®️(CSCR®️) believes next to internships and co-ops, working with the Center’s corporate sponsors on a collaborative research project is perhaps the next best opportunity to prepare students for the professional setting they will experience when they graduate. Thus, CSCR provides our corporate sponsors the opportunity to submit relevant research projects to enable collaboration with our top supply chain students.

Corporate Sponsor Research Project Categories

Student engagement research projects fall into six categories:

Schreyers Thesis
The Schreyer Honors College is ranked among the nation’s best honors colleges with only 300 spots available for all PSU majors. Supply Chain Schreyer students have the opportunity to select a submitted corporate sponsor research project if it meets specific criteria. Dr. Robert Novack, CSCR’s associate director of student research and associate professor of Supply Chain and Information Systems, works with the students as their thesis faculty advisor.

Honors Option
Schreyer students must complete a minimum number of honors credits. One way to accumulate honors credits is to take a non-honors class and complete a corporate sponsor research project that complements the honors student's coursework. The honors option is a semester-long project led by the course professor and managed by Lauren Bechtel, program director for CSCR.

APEX
Comprised of either second-year MBA students or undergraduate seniors from Smeal’s Sapphire Leadership Academic Program. The Sapphire Leadership Academic Program is the honors program for Smeal Business students. This semester-long project is comprised of students from different business majors and led by David Lenze, the director of Penn State’s Applied Professional Experience (APEX).

SCM 496
Most student and CSCR Corporate Sponsor collaborative projects are assigned to this category. The SCM496 option is a semester-long project for top supply chain seniors. These students work independently with Lauren Bechtel, program director for CSCR.

Learning Factory
The Learning Factory is a collaborative project involving engineers and supply chain students. Each project typically engages a team of four (4) to six (6) students over the semester. The Learning Factory projects are funded, unlike the projects mentioned above. CSCR Corporate Sponsors donate $3,500 to the College of Engineering. Up to $1,000 is made available to the student research team for supplies and travel expenses necessary to complete the project.

High School Project
After review of all CSCR Corporate Sponsor research project requests, Dr. Robert Novack, CSCR’s associate director of student research and associate professor of Supply Chain and Information Systems, may designate a project suitable for State College High School’s Supply Chain Program students. Dr. Novack and Tracie Shannon, CSCR’s administrative director, manage the high school student research projects.

Student Project Proposal Submission, Collection, and Assignment Process

The project proposal submission process begins ten weeks before the spring and fall semesters. The process is as follows:

  • Eight weeks from when the project proposals are due, a “call for projects” email is sent to the Center’s sponsors. Links and instructions are provided in the email
  • Four (4) and two (2) weeks before the proposal due date, a reminder email is sent
  • Two (2) weeks before the start of the semester, projects are collected and classified (Schreyer, Honors Option, SCM 496, etc.)
  • One (1) week before the semester starts, sponsors will be called for clarification on projects and to get NDAs started if needed
  • The first two (2) to three (3) weeks of the semester, students are assigned to a project based on a student’s background, interest, and their instructor/advisor’s assessment

What Makes a Successful Student Research Engagement Project?

Student research engagement with industry has a lot to offer in terms of enhanced student learning. The success, satisfaction, and effectiveness of the student learning experience depending on the type of collaborative research projects that students and corporate sponsors work on together. Thus, an understanding of what makes a successful supply chain research project is imperative.

Best Practices
This type of research project typically addresses “best in class” practices for a particular process. The methodology usually focuses on research already publicly available, and the student will synthesize the existing literature to identify the “best practices” in a particular area.

The student might also interview executives in other companies to determine how they are performing a particular process. If this methodology is used, we require the student to deliver a summary of results to not only the company submitting the project but also to the pool of executives interviewed. All responses remain anonymous. An example might be what other companies are doing with corporate social responsibility practices.

We DO NOT, however, permit students to interview executives to ask for data or metrics.

Company Specific – Data Intensive
Focused on a challenge requiring the company to provide data to the student for analysis. It is imperative the company provides adequate data promptly for the research. An example of this type of project might be an analysis to determine optimal shipping policies to a firm’s customers.

Company Specific – Process Intensive
Focused on a problem experienced by a company but is process, not data, specific. An example might be an analysis of how to eliminate congestion on the receiving dock of a distribution center.

Company Specific – Data and Process Intensive
This type of project typically requires an in-depth analysis by the student since it incorporates both data and process aspects. An example might be redesigning the picking area of a distribution center based on order profiles and shipping schedules.

Current Topics
These projects cover all of the remaining types of projects that might be submitted. Generally, these types of projects can involve publicly accessible data or publicly available best practices. Although not specific to your organization, these topics have some impact on how you conduct business. Two recent projects have been: 1) An economic analysis of the global natural gas industry; and, 2) An economic analysis of the labor pool in South Africa. So, as you can see, these topics are broad and can be completed using all publicly available sources.

Groundwork for Success

NDA
If your firm requires a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for the research, PENN STATE WILL NOT ACCEPT A COMPANY NDA. A Penn State approved NDA designed for research projects will be made available. If you have questions regarding Penn State’s NDA, you can contact Lauren Bechtel, program director for CSCR.
A Schreyer thesis project will be made publicly available. However, if confidentiality is an issue, the student can request that a two-year “hold” be put on the thesis so it will not be available to the public for that two-year term. Any research project that is not a Schreyer thesis will not be made publicly available and will remain the property of the submitting company.

Stay Engaged
The corporate sponsor’s engagement with students during the entire process will ultimately improve the quality of the project and the experience of the student. It sounds cliché, but you get out of the research project what you put into it. The more context and direction you as a corporate sponsor can provide to the students, the better their deliverables are going to be.

Need more information?

If you have further questions or want to discuss a student research engagement opportunity, please contact Lauren Bechtel.