Transportation Club of Detroit 2014

Transportation Club of Detroit 2014

31st Annual Scholarship Awards Dinner
Detroit, Michigan, October 6, 2014

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, PhD

Remarks as prepared

I want to start by thanking the Transportation Club of Detroit for its generous scholarship support.

We’re very proud of our students, and I want to recognize MSU’s two Transportation Club scholarship winners—Megan Kuhn and Gloria Lim—and the other scholarship winners joining us tonight.

Transportation has never been far from our minds at Michigan State, situated as we were in 1855 in the hinterlands along the plank road connecting Lansing to Detroit.

It’s funny how some things don’t really change. Students, even back then, apparently had a tendency to “borrow” transportation. Our board in 1863 was compelled to resolve that under no circumstances could college teams be loaned or hired to students without the “express permission of the president,” and only for “special and necessary reasons.”

I appreciate the Transportation Club’s support for the students with us tonight as well as for the other forms of engagement you employers extend to Michigan’s universities and students.

We understand that transportation and logistics are important, not just to provide great jobs for our graduates, but also to help rebuild Michigan’s economy.  

Michigan’s location and geography really give us an advantage for promoting multiple modes of transport that can do much to enhance our already strong import and export position.

Employment in logistics industries actually grew 30 percent more than overall private sector employment between 2011 and 2012[i], and we can do even better if we can leverage our manufacturing capacity and supply chain assets, including our international crossings and air freight potential.

Employer engagement and workforce development

I was pleased to see that our Big Three auto companies were among Michigan State’s top five external employers of MSU graduates last year. That’s also a good sign for Michigan’s economy.[ii]  

And of the 200 or so employers attending last week’s Business Exchange Career Fair on campus,[iii] at least half were looking for supply chain management students graduating in the next year.

Events like that—bringing employers and students together—are important means of making connections for our students. Last year, nearly a quarter of our Broad College of Business graduates found jobs through a career fair.[iv] Another 30 percent of the Broad business graduates found a job through an internship or co-op experience.

Career fairs and such other means of connection are important ways we promote career opportunities as well as our employer partners.

If you remember some of the conversations at the Mackinac Policy Conference last spring, some centered around auto industry career perceptions among next-generation workers.

The Detroit Chamber released a survey on the island showing that only about half of the students it polled see the industry as an attractive career option.[v] So, all of us have some work to do raising awareness.

Employer connections clearly make a huge difference in job placement.

That’s probably a reason our full-time MBA program is ranked No. 2 in the United States and No. 4 globally for “placement success” by Financial Times.

At Michigan State we stress the importance of internships and other high-impact work experiences to all our students, and I know that’s certainly the case for our Department of Supply Chain Management in the Broad College.

The department produces about 10 percent of the supply chain graduates in the United States. It was named the number one undergraduate program in the country both by U.S. News and Gartner.

On top of that, SCM World’s annual survey of chief supply chain officers last year found that MSU was at the top of their lists for recruiting talent.

Part of the reason for our success in supply chain management education has to do with the breadth and comprehensiveness of our program.

The SCM department integrates manufacturing operations, purchasing, transportation, and physical distribution into a unified program. This approach provides students with a comprehensive background in each area while allowing them to pursue concentrations within their areas of interest.

One of the questions I’m asked most is how Michigan State is making sure our graduates are prepared for today’s workforce.

We work closely with corporate leaders such as you, and I’m on the boards of Business Leaders for Michigan, the Detroit Branch of the Chicago Federal Reserve, and the Council on Competitiveness. These kinds of interactions help give me a handle on what employers are looking for.

I’m very pleased that the BLM in particular has made improving the state of Michigan’s educational attainment a key plank in its Michigan Turnaround Plan.

Improving educational attainment

If we’re going to be able to innovate and leverage the productivity enhancements necessary to grow the state’s economy, we need to improve Michigan’s level of educational attainment.

The BLM ranks Michigan among the top 10 states for degrees awarded and STEM degrees in particular—but we still have issues with graduating enough college-ready high school students, especially as Michigan faces a drop in school-age population.

Michigan is 40th in the country in its high school graduation rate and is one of only four states whose rate dropped in the last decade.[vi] 

The state is 30th in post-secondary completion—36.8 percent—woefully below the 60 percent that the Lumina Foundation predicts will be necessary to fill the sorts of jobs available in 2025.

Michigan has nearly two million working-age adults who have earned an associate’s degree or higher. But to become a leading state, Michigan needs to expand that by another 900,000 people in the next few years.[vii] 

One way to make up the difference is by improving our graduation rates, especially at community colleges but certainly for all higher education institutions.

Michigan State has a number of programs under way to help improve student success in STEM programs, for example, through targeted student academic support.

Along similar lines, last month I was in Washington to help announce the University Innovation Alliance. Eleven universities shared best practices to narrow the “graduation gap” separating minority, low-income, and first-generation students from their peers.

MSU’s contribution to the alliance is our Neighborhoods initiative, which is using increasingly sophisticated methods to deliver academic interventions and other services to students in their residential halls.

Partnering with business and communities

Those are some of the things we’re doing on the inside, but Michigan State’s land-grant mission of stakeholder engagement has always made us very outward facing.

That includes partnering faculty and Extension educators with businesses to help solve the real-world problems they face.

You might already know that our Department of Supply Chain Management is active in that regard. Our department chair—David Closs—is a member of the Governor’s Commission for Logistics and Supply Chain Collaboration, working to leverage the state’s assets for greater competitiveness and prosperity.

Here in Detroit, David was appointed by Mayor Duggan to help guide supply chain investments for Detroit’s Intermodal Freight Terminal. the Port of Detroit, and to help expand freight service for Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

All of us in Michigan have a vested interest in seeing that Detroit’s transportation and logistics assets are leveraged to the fullest, and David and his associates are doing great work with our local partners.

We also have something exciting developing up in Midland. The Supply Chain Management Department has been deeply involved this year in setting up the Midland Research Institute for Value Chain Creation with our partners at Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, and other companies and foundations.

The institute will allow researchers across several of our colleges to collaborate with industry on value chain creation, packaging, food safety, and even criminal justice. Researchers there also will work with undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to improve all types of public and private value chains.

We started off the Midland program with a summit there in August, hosting 120 people from industry, government, and the academy to think about improving sustainability, sourcing, and using “big data” and analytics to identify value chains.

We’re hoping to open the institute’s permanent office there in January.

We’re engaged in transportation in many other ways through MSU’s research enterprise.

With our University Research Corridor partners—the University of Michigan and Wayne State University—a couple years ago we reported some $300 million in auto-related research between us over a 5-year period, spanning some 1,400 research projects.

Private industry funded 28 percent of that research.

Each of our universities have our areas of specialization, and for MSU it is things like biofuel research and composite materials, and our energy and automotive engineering laboratories.

We figured that between the three universities, we produce 3,600 auto industry-ready STEM graduates each year.

T-shaped talent

MSU also has been a leader in gauging workforce concerns with our annual employer surveys. Our College Employment Research Institute (CERI) monitors what employers look for in college graduates, and releases a widely-quoted report each year.

Employers tell us they are looking for graduates who know their major and their specialty, but also know how to adapt to change and collaborate in a diverse team setting. 

We have borrowed an information technology industry concept to describe this kind of person, the “T-shaped” individual.

CERI and its director, Phil Gardner, are working with IBM and others to flesh out this concept as it applies to higher education, developing our own “Model T.”

To visualize it, think of the vertical stroke of the T as representing the deep knowledge, quantitative analysis, and other specialized skills we expect college graduates to possess. Then add the horizontal bar on top of it, representing broad and connective skills such as global awareness, communication, and decision-making.

A UPS executive described this really well recently[viii] when talking about the international competition for talent. He said:

“… we need students who excel at critical thinking—problem solvers and independent thinkers.

“We also need communicators … In an age of collaboration, communication is the force that brings the parts together. It creates focus and keeps us moving in the same direction.

“A big plus,” he added, “is the ability to speak a foreign language.”

That the sort of global skill set we stress at MSU. We’re a national leader both in study abroad and on our campus with our international student enrollment.[ix] 

It’s this blend of theoretical and practical that has always been part of MSU’s program, which is now informed by conditions and the tools available to us in the 21st century.

When you think about it, real-world problems can’t be solved from a textbook. They tend to be complicated and require solutions coming from a variety of directions.

This isn’t a recent revelation. If you look at the writings of MSU’s 19th-century founders, they often discuss the necessity for farmers in particular to be broadly and deeply skilled as horticulturalists, chemists, accountants, entomologists, veterinarians, and not least, as “perpetual teachers” of others in the community and stewards of the land.

Our early curriculum was a relatively novel mixture of science and liberal arts meant to give graduates the knowledge to solve practical agricultural problems and the critical-thinking skills to make them effective citizens and leaders.[x] 

Today our graduates still need to be problem-solvers who can not only analyze problems from a technical, quantitative standpoint, but people who see the big picture and are able to analyze, collaborate, and communicate to arrive at sustainable solutions.

We’re building this mindset into the 21st century curriculum with intentionality. For some years now, we’ve looked closely at what undergraduate students need to succeed.

A graduate with deep knowledge in their particular field and the means to leverage it with contextual and collaborative skills will emerge from MSU as a T-shaped individual.


It’s never too early to start teaching and learning some of these skills.

Back in May, two of our supply chain faculty members and three of their students worked with first graders to teach them supply chain principles using LEGO bricks. The kids used LEGOs to design and build cars and to understand the math, science, and challenge of building a car to the quality expected by a customer.

There’s a bright future in transportation and logistics careers, and all of us can play a role in spreading the word and helping prepare the next generation of industry professionals.

Thank you again for the support you give our students and educational institutions, and thanks for inviting me tonight to share this year’s scholarship celebration with you.


 [i] BLM 2014 report: Growing a New Michigan

[ii] 2013 Destination Survey Report

[iii] Oct. 1-2 at the Breslin Center

[iv] 2013 Destination Survey

[v] Detroit Regional Chamber 2014 Mackinac Policy Conference executive summary

[vi] 70.9% vs. 74.7% national rate, Education Week, 2013

[vii] Educational Attainment as an Economic Driver for States, Regions and Communities; Good/La Prad, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce; 2013 Co-Learning Plan Series; MSU EDA University Center for Regional Economic Innovation (REI)

[viii] Kurt Kuehn, UPS CFO, speaking in April at the Internationalization of U.S. Education in the 21st Century” conference in Williamsburg, Va. and in UPS blog Sept. 11:

[ix] 7,800+ this term

[x] Michigan Agricultural College, sesquicentennial history


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