Tricia Kerns’s fascination with the world of business operations began in the early 80s when her father lost his job at U.S. Steel. His loss kicked off her journey to find answers. She made an early stop at Governors State University in 1998 as a returning adult student.
The devastating loss of steel mill jobs could be felt throughout the entire community, and young Kerns was inspired to ultimately learn business processes to help ensure others wouldn’t lose employment to global competition.
“Looking back, as much as we wanted to say it was unfair, there was a lot of waste, and foreign competitors had been stepping up,’’ said Kerns.
Now a university lecturer with the College of Business since 2014, Kerns became the first in her immediate family to earn a degree when she completed her bachelor’s degree with a concentration in Operations Management in 2003. She went on to earn her MBA at Governors State in 2006 and her Doctor of Education degree with a concentration in Ethical Leadership in 2011.
It was no easy feat.
As she worked her way through classes, Kerns continued her career in Operations and Supply Chain Management. She often shares her story with her students, reminding them they may face challenges, but the end result is worth the sacrifice.
“I tell them it can be a slow road sometimes, a very challenging journey, but to stick with it.”
She also shares the challenges she faced, as a woman, in the workplace with female students. Oftentimes, she would be the first female forklift driver in a particular company or one of a few female supervisors.
“It’s become a point of conversation with students who have concerns about moving into Supply Chain Management field because they are women,” said Kerns, who was once given a pink hard hat by one of her supervisors.
GSU Newsroom: In layman’s terms, how does supply chain management impact consumers?
Kerns: Supply chain management is the idea of how we maximize our value for customers by understanding the demand to delivery model. Orders come in to a warehouse and are processed in the right place at the right time to get the product or service to the customer when they need it. I think about the Supply Chain process of Weber grills waiting for the summer demand. They are in stores now, but the process was probably planned two years ago. Supply chain management is the value we add to actively satisfy customers expectations.
GSU Newsroom: How did your father’s job loss inspire your doctoral thesis?
Kerns: My father lost his job due to global competition, and I wanted to understand what that was. My dissertation “Global competition: A qualitative study exploring the change in business models and strategies of Midwest manufacturing companies that address their competitiveness in the global economy” showed me how American companies were wasting resources while foreign companies were stepping up and doing it better and faster. We needed to be thinking about working smarter, not harder. I have a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification, which is a system of continuous improvement that works in any market place. I also hold an APICS CPIM (Certified in Production and Inventory Management) and CLTD (Certified in Logistics, Transportation and Distribution) certificate to improve my skills and help my students succeed. I want to make an impact by helping students help companies work smarter so ultimately people won’t lose their jobs.
GSU Newsroom: Your concentration was in Ethical Leadership. How do you prepare your students for the ethical challenges they may face in the workforce?
Kerns: I want my students to walk out of my ethics classes prepared to face an ethical dilemma, and when it does happen, they will remember the classroom discussions or online discussions.
It’s easy to understand what’s legal and what’s not legal. But, when it comes to the gray areas, the “If I see it, what do I do?” situations, what I like to tell students is that the decisions they make—and it could be a split second decision—could ultimately change their career path forever. It is critical to set an example, the right example, every time. That even one small decision that is unethical or in this gray area can create lasting effects. We need to be ethical even when others aren’t.
GSU Newsroom: You said you enjoy watching students come full circle? What did you mean?
Kerns: We are in the middle of the Midwest where products are flowing from the east coast to the west coast, and we have multibillion companies building here—Amazon, Dot foods—all these companies are now at our front door saying, ‘We need people.’ My task and the task of faculty at GSU is to understand what those needs are so we can prepare students to exceed them.
When I arrived at GSU in 2014, the Supply Chain Management program was just picking up speed and I was working really hard to translate employers’ needs to what I was teaching. I think we’re getting it right because GSU alumni who come back to share their experience share how they understand those demands. They thank me and say, ‘When is the Career Fair? We need more people.’