Busy Season for Supply Chain Brings Gift of Learning to Olive-Harvey Students


Holiday shopping, returns, unpredictable weather conditions, and more make the winter season a busy one for those working in the supply chain industry. But for Cheryl Freeman Smith, dean of career and continuing education in the Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics (TDL) department at Olive-Harvey College, the busy season is the perfect time to help students understand all that’s involved in the supply chain industry.

“Most times, people don’t think about the supply chain,” Freeman Smith said. “But we explain to students that most of the things they eat, wear, and use were first in a factory and, later, on a plane, train, or truck to get to them,” she said.

The TDL program at Olive-Harvey helps students to connect the dots between all the stages of the industry, from developing a new product, to sourcing its materials, to producing it, delivering it, and, sometimes, returning it.

Dean Freeman Smith often relates her past experiences in logistics to concepts students are learning to help them understand TDL concepts. She tells them how she had to be constantly aware of the status of the products she sold at each stage of the supply chain. She shares that when a product she sold was mentioned on a well-known talk show, her team worked quickly and creatively to be sure orders were fulfilled and the sales campaign wasn’t shorted.

“I share examples that are relevant to students’ daily lives as much as I can,” Freeman Smith said. “For example, when an influencer mentions a product on Instagram, we walk through what production, sales, and forecasting teams are likely going to do to be sure they can deliver.”

The program is thriving, and Chicago’s ideal infrastructure and geographical location helps students too. O’Hare International Airport is consistently one of the busiest cargo airports in the nation. Six out of the seven class I freight railroads in the United States come through the city. Chicagoland has six interstate highways and additional highway spurs and bypasses running through it, making it a great location for the trucking industry to call home.

“Chicago is such a strong TDL hub because of the convergence of the interstates, those rails, and O’Hare International Airport,” Freeman Smith said. “All those connections mean that Chicago can get products to consumers from every industry in less than ten days.”

For Freeman Smith, the most important connections the program helps build are the ones between students and their future employers or four-year universities.

“We have strong apprenticeship programs with companies like Quaker Oats and Waste Management and with airlines like United. These partnerships help our students land well-paying jobs,” Freeman Smith said.

For those students who want to further their education, the program’s guaranteed admissions agreement with Chicago State University gives graduates a seamless path to a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus on supply chain management.

Students interested in a career in the field have lots of ways to build their skills and knowledge at Olive-Harvey. The college offers a five-course basic certificate and a ten-course advanced certificate in Supply Chain Management and Logistics, both of which are offered at no cost to eligible students through City College of Chicago’s Future Ready initiative. The credentials are stackable and also lead to an associate degree in applied science for students interested in obtaining a degree in the field.

No matter their pathway, Freeman Smith wants students to “see that they have more insight to the field than they realize,” she said. “Every industry is tied to the supply chain.”