This story is the third in a new series, Mapping Success, which shares how the Global Supply Chain Institute and UT’s supply chain management education programs impact the lives and careers of students and professionals in the industry. Read the first about how the MS SCM Online helped Ron Wallace transition from public education to procurement and how EMBA-GSC accelerated Smita Davis’s move into senior leadership.

After graduating from Auburn University with a degree in supply chain management in 2013, Russell McLendon went to work for J.B Hunt Transport Services, where he spent nine years in operations and account management. In 2021, he was accepted into the Master of Science in Supply Chain Management Online program, which he completed in a year and a half.

Five months after completing the program, Russell McLendon accepted a role as a transportation analyst with Tractor Supply Company.

Where were you in your career when you first considered MS SCM Online?

Coming off COVID-19, I was working a remote job, and I wasn’t sure where to go with my career. My job was based on a contract with a customer, and I worried about what would happen if that contract wasn’t renewed. There was nowhere left to grow with what I was doing unless I was willing to move to Atlanta or Arkansas.

I didn’t want to worry about moving, and I also wanted to stay in the transportation sector. J.B. Hunt is a great company, but I wanted to stay close to Nashville and have a long-term job.

What made you decide to apply?

One night I stayed up researching graduate programs. Going back to school was always a thought in the back of my head, and the time seemed right. I had done some certifications since college, but I knew that a full master’s would be much more than that.

I had people at my former company who graduated from UT’s supply chain program who held it in high regard. The stats about the master’s program jumped out at me in terms of increasing my pay, moving into leadership, and getting long-term benefits. By the time I finished reading, I felt like UT would be able to help me grow as a person, leader, and manager.

What was the process like once you decided to apply?

It was efficient and fast. I filled out a form on the website, and one of the enrollment counselors reached out to schedule a call with me the next day. For me, that was a big deal. It didn’t take a month; I didn’t have to follow up. It was very simple and easy. I appreciated that because, at the time, I was ready to get started. I might’ve put it off again if it had been more complicated. I submitted my application in November and started the program in January.

What did you enjoy about the program once you started?

Hearing other students’ opinions and learning about their values while working on projects let me see a different side of the world that I wouldn’t see by doing my job every day.

I’ve heard of some online programs where you’re just doing coursework. To me, this was hands-on. You get a professor. You get a class. There’s a discussion with everyone joining in and bringing new ideas. At the time, I only worked with myself and 10 truck drivers. Seeing other people and working together to get stuff done was refreshing.

On top of that, I really enjoyed the immersion. I enjoyed conversing in person with peers I had only talked to online. I still talk to a lot of them now. I don’t know that other schools have that. The ability to come in and tour the school you’re getting your degree from, meet the professors in person, and get immersed in UT’s culture. It made you feel like you were part of the school, not another number. To me, that was a big win.

What helped keep you motivated to perform academically?

The program has a GPA requirement in order to continue with the degree. That kept me accountable to myself and my peers. It helped me bond with my teammates during group projects, and it made it competitive so that we really were doing the best we could. It wasn’t just about showing up and getting a degree.

Yemisi Bolumule (“Dr. B”) also really challenged me with the capstone project. She went beyond the classroom to give me valuable feedback that helped me develop my knowledge and see the bigger parts of the supply chain.

How did you benefit outside of the classroom?

Beyond academics, my career counselor Tyler Orr helped me get the ball rolling on a couple of different applications and connected me with contacts who could help me. I had been on LinkedIn but wasn’t using it properly for networking. I learned how to build my resume. Overall, I really grew as a professional. And it wasn’t just about presenting myself better to get a job or benefit myself. It’s helped me to grow as a leader and a manager.

Do you credit your time in MS SCM Online with getting your current job at Tractor Supply?

It definitely helped for Tyler to reach out and start the conversation. They had a big open hiring to reengage their supply chain division. So I came in at the right place, right time. And it was a great jump for me. I have the option to be in a remote setting or the office. That’s huge for the changes in my life within the last months, especially welcoming a new baby boy to our family.

When I started the program, I’d just turned 30. I’d been grinding for eight, nine years. I asked myself: What do I want from my job or career? Did I want to move up the ladder, or was I okay with where I was at? That comes back to why I chose Tennessee. It gave me the building blocks to continue growing and hopefully give back someday.

With the professors we had in this program, many of them had real-world experiences that they could pull from and share with you. You can’t read that kind of knowledge in a book or find it online. Getting that kind of relevant wisdom from them also helped me grow as a person.

I look forward to maybe working in the supply chain industry for 20, 30 more years, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

What advice would you give to someone considering the program?

Life’s too short. It’ll come at you really fast. Before you know it, you’ve graduated college and are 10 years down the road. I recommend that people sit down and plan their trajectory out. Put a 5- or 10-year plan together. Look at the stats from UT about this program; you basically have a jump in pay potentially, a jump in management, and a jump in job opportunities. You can access a Tennessee alumni base with hundreds of thousands of people in the network. You have flexibility and people willing to help and work with you on moving your career forward or providing more insight into topics you’re interested in. It’s also the top graduate program in the country for supply chain management—how can you say no to that?

This program is time-consuming. But it’s worth it. If you can manage your time, it’ll pay off in dividends. Take full advantage of it. I’m living proof that it’s worth it.

Learn more about the MS SCM Online Program, including key dates, informational webinars, graduate testimonials, and registration information. Fill out the form below to request more information.

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