Operation Stimulus case competition brings next generation of supply chain professionals to CSU

Imagine you’re the owner of a trucking company, and you’re trying to figure out which facility to buy in order to accommodate your growing operation. Most people might think about the cost of the real estate itself, but what about the impact of a paved versus gravel parking lot? Or how much money it will cost in the long run if trucks have to make a left turn out of the property instead of a right?

These are the kinds of calculations that supply chain management professionals have to make every single day, and some of the best young minds in the business gathered on the Colorado State University campus to share their solutions to a similar problem during the 40th annual Operation Stimulus student case study competition, which was held from March 2-5. 

“It’s been a really nice reunion for the people who come to this year after year,” said Paul Vanderspek, a master instructor for CSU’s Department of Management and the person responsible for bringing Operation Stimulus to Fort Collins for the first time in its 40 year history. “I think this will really help propel our supply chain program and bolster its recognition.” 

CSU partnered with the Denver Transportation Club to put together the Operation Stimulus event, which ultimately brought together 16 teams from 15 universities across the country. In all, 65 supply chain management students had the opportunity to network with industry professionals and one another in between listening to multiple speakers and presenting their own case studies to a panel of judges from companies like Subaru and J.B. Hunt. 

“This is a great experience not just for our students, but for all the students from across the country who participate,” said Susan Golicic, the chair of the CSU Department of Management. 

‘It’s truly the golden era of supply chain’

When COVID-19 began to dominate the news, so did supply chain management, as people suddenly began to question why items like toilet paper and disinfecting wipes suddenly became nearly impossible to find at the grocery store. 

The pandemic is actually what drew senior CSU business major Christian Barnett to change his concentration to supply chain management. He was part of one of the two CSU teams that competed in Operation Stimulus. 

“I’m always looking for an opportunity to grow my skill set,” he said. “I live, breathe and can’t stop thinking about supply chain.” 

Fellow CSU supply chain student Scout Saack felt the same way, saying that he was more than happy to spend his Friday afternoon watching the finalists present their case studies since it helped him learn how to improve at his chosen profession. 

“This is truly the golden era of supply chain,” he said. 

Drew Kitterman, the president of the CSU Supply Chain Club, helped Vanderspek organize the Operation Stimulus Case Competition and was on hand throughout the event to help direct the visiting students and faculty, as well as the 25 company sponsors who assisted with the career fair. 

“I’m a problem solver, and this feels like a problem solving industry to be part of,” he said. 

Case competition promotes mission of ‘Business for a Better World’

At its core, Operation Stimulus wasn’t about the competition as much as the collaboration that came with it. 

“You have professionals who are giving back as either judges or speakers, and you have students that are looking at business problems from a variety of perspectives, not just financial, but how it might impact the community,” Vanderspek said. “I think it really broadly supports our mission of business for a better world.” 

Lori Sisk, an assistant professor at Wayne State University, has been bringing students to Operation Stimulus for nearly a decade. She said her students have invested 100 hours in preparing their case studies for the competition. 

“It’s very much a networking opportunity not just for other students, but for professionals and faculty,” she said. 

That extends beyond the competition itself. Once the work was finished, one group of students and faculty headed up to Snowy Range in Wyoming for a day of skiing. Another had the opportunity to see everything Fort Collins has to offer through a trip to Old Town and brewery tours. 

But first was the final case competition, where four teams delivered 20-minute presentations for a panel of judges. Janna Murphy, the director of operations for J.B. Hunt, helped judge and also created the case – a first for her on both counts. 

“It’s so cool to see people who aren’t even in the industry yet solve these problems, and showcase their talent,” she said. “It makes me excited for the future.” 

The University of Indiana ultimately won first place, but the other teams are already looking ahead to next year — Feb. 29 toMarch 1, 2024 — when Operation Stimulus will return to Fort Collins. 

“We’re all excited to come back,” said Natasha Poularikas, the director of the master in supply chain management program at the University of Oklahoma. 

About CSU’s College of Business

The College of Business at Colorado State University is focused on using business to create a better world.

As an AACSB-accredited business school, the College is among the top five percent of business colleges worldwide, providing programs and career support services to more than 2,500 undergraduate and 1,300 graduate students. Faculty help students across our top-ranked on-campus and online programs develop the knowledge, skills and values to navigate a rapidly evolving business world and address global challenges with sustainable business solutions. Our students are known for their creativity, work ethic and resilience—resulting in an undergraduate job offer and placement rate of over 90% within 90 days of graduation.

The College’s highly ranked programs include its Online MBA, which has been ranked the No. 1 program in Colorado by U.S. News and World Report for six years running and achieved No. 16 for employability worldwide from QS Quacquarelli Symonds. The College’s Impact MBA is also ranked by Corporate Knights as a Top 20 “Better World MBA” worldwide.