University of Tennessee

In Uncertain Times, UT’s International MS in Supply Chain Management Forges Ahead

November 12, 2020

In the face of a pandemic, how does an international master’s degree program continue operating? Despite worldwide travel restrictions and widespread economic turmoil which thwarted student educational plans and disrupted universities’ academic offerings, the Master of Science in Supply Chain Management Tri-Continent (MS SCM – Tri-Continent) offered by the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is moving forward with resiliency and adaptability.

Those attributes are key elements for a successful global academic program, according to the MS SCM – Tri-Continent’s program manager, Becky Powell. Powell and her counterparts at UT’s partner universities, Kühne Logistics University (KLU) in Hamburg, Germany, and Tongji University’s School of Economics and Management in Shanghai, China, are continually monitoring the situation to find and deliver the best course for the program.

“This year has proved that, in the face of adversity, we can adapt our program to keep providing our students a high-quality experience,” Powell says.

In January, all Tri-Con students were in Hamburg completing their first semester and planning to travel to China in early February for the start of the second. Unfortunately, Tongji was shuttered in a bid to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The program directors acted quickly to find a solution. As Shay Scott, director, said at the time, “Supply chain management is all about contingency planning, so now is our time to shine.”

In that spirit, the partner universities collaborated to create a plan for delivering needed course content covering the degree requirements while upholding the global focus fundamental to the program. Initially, they decided that all Tri-Con cohorts would remain in Germany through April, continuing in-person instruction. Adapting to the evolving situation, KLU administrators and staff strove tirelessly to secure last-minute accommodations for students, extend residency visas, obtain faculty for the core curriculum (with input from Tongji) and provide other invaluable services.

This work was upended in mid-March when the novel coronavirus spread to Europe. U.S. university administrators made the difficult decision to withdraw all students from study abroad programs. Tri-Con students had to return to the U.S.

Program directors recalibrated again to enable students to complete spring semester coursework with an online/hybrid format from all three universities to maintain the program’s international character. The next hurdle was to swap the fall and spring semesters’ curricula. Instead of welcoming international cohorts to Knoxville for the fall 2020 semester, they will arrive in spring 2021.

Currently, KLU and Tongji students are finishing their internships, while UT students are completing their capstone experience, which challenges student teams to synthesize their learning from the program to solve an issue for a partner organization.

MS SCM – Tri-Continent students have made the best of the changed circumstances in other ways. Nicholas Lauerman, from the Class of 2021, found taking online classes from both KLU and Tongji challenging because of the 12-hour time difference and because some needed apps (e.g., WhatsApp) were not available in China. The effort was made easier, he said, by the students’ shared rapport and by the program directors’ prescience in tracking the pandemic’s expansion.

“Since the three schools were monitoring the pandemic the whole time, they were prepared to offer online classes before they had to, which made the transition to online work smoother for us,” Lauerman says. “I think it will be great practice for the future, because many companies may switch to full online or hybrid models permanently.”

Lauerman and his 10 classmates in the 2021 UT cohort have persevered, continuing the program together. Lauerman and his 10 classmates in the 2021 UT cohort have persevered, continuing the program together. The Class of 2022 is also pressing forward.

Rachel Davis, a member of the class of 2022, decided to stay in the program because she saw “the commitment from UT program management, KLU and Tongji to give our cohort the fullest experience possible without compromising on educational quality. I also have been lucky to have a cohort that has bonded quickly and is constantly supporting and entertaining each other during this rollercoaster of a year.”

While earlier in the semester prospects of the cohorts resuming international travel seemed dim, travel restrictions recently were relaxed, and the university granted a travel exception for the program. Celebrations ensued in late October, as the 2022 cohort set off for Germany.

“We are thankful for all of our MS-SCM – Tri-Continent students, who in the face of adversity, have adapted and proved to be quite resilient, true hallmarks of supply chain professionals,” she says. “As evidenced here, it truly takes a village – in this case, a global village – to keep our program alive and healthy in the face of a pandemic.”


Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist,