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Alumni say FIU grad programs prepared them for supply chain breakdowns during COVID-19

by Dominique Kent

Feb 11, 2021, 12:00 PM.

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In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it would be impossible not to notice how everyday shopping has been affected. Online shopping has boomed, grocery stores are less packed and who could forget the dreaded lack of toilet paper.

Many are asking, "What is going on behind the scenes? How are the professionals grappling with this unprecedented supply chain disruption?"

Engineering alumni from FIU’s College of Engineering & Computing say the Department of Enterprise & Logistics Engineering (ELE) graduate programs—encompassing the engineering management and logistics engineering graduate programs—helped them prepare for situations just like this.

Juan Restrepo and Guillermo Vulcano graduated with master’s degrees in engineering management. Today, both work in management positions at their respective companies. Restrepo is a principal transportation practice leader for Florida at Stantec Consulting Services Inc. Vulcano is vice president of business operations at Cooper General Global Services. Both have faced challenges in their companies with respect to COVID-19.

“Stantec offers a variety of services in different business lines globally and, as such, we have been impacted by COVID-19 in different ways,” Restrepo says. “Given our wide array of clientele, some businesses are experiencing a pickup in work, while others are experiencing a slowdown.”

Stantec Consulting services a number of sectors, including architecture, engineering, sustainability and many others. Stantec is considered an essential business and has been able to remain open. Yet they have been indirectly affected by factors such as loss of toll-generated project funds due to decreased traffic.

“There has been a large number of government clients in different places in the U.S. that have put several projects on hold, or delayed them, which has left our firm with resource-allocation issues to deal with,” he says.

But Restrepo adds, patience is key.

“We need to take time to understand peoples’ needs. We need to act with intentionality to adjust to this new normal and we need to share responsibility in protecting the health and welfare of everyone,” Restrepo says. 

By graduating from the MSEM program, Restrepo set himself up for success in multiple situations, even those as extreme as COVID-19. In his position, he wins clients, leads the delivery of products and heads the growth of Stantec’s market position.

“To be successful in my position, I draw from the coursework I completed in the areas of engineering management at FIU,” Restrepo says.

Cooper General, which currently operates four major cellular service centers with repair and rebuilding capabilities, also faced challenges with the onset of COVID-19.

“All products coming from China were held and shortage of parts and handsets did impact the business,” Vulcano says. “The fact that all products are manufactured overseas creates a challenge by itself.”

Luckily, demand eventually decreased, allowing them to keep up with public consumption. But for other companies, these shortages explain why shelves have been emptier than usual, and why some things have been harder to come by.

“We wouldn’t be facing this issue if we were producing things locally,” he says.

Vulcano also feels his coursework at FIU prepared him for this situation.

“For my current position, I use most knowledge acquired from all the courses I have taken for my master’s degree – from quality management to business law to supply chains,” he says.

“The master’s degree in engineering management aims to develop future leaders of industry and business in engineering and technological environments," says Chin-Sheng Chen, professor and director of the engineering management program. "The master’s degree in logistics engineering is an interdisciplinary program, aiming to nurture engineers, operations managers and future leaders for the rapidly transforming logistics and supply chains industry."  

Most graduates of the programs choose to remain in Florida and can find work in several areas, such as airlines, cruise lines, warehousing, retailing, manufacturing, telecommunications, healthcare and banking. There are also various nonprofit organizations, including schools, universities, charities and government.

“While situations like COVID-19 present great challenges to the economy and the business environment, they also create many opportunities for our engineering management and logistics engineering students,” Chen says. “Many business entities need to redefine the way of conducting business, review their product/service and process designs, and retool their production operations and distribution systems.”

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