Business school offers ‘truck watching’ class

The pedestrian bridge near 8th St. crosses over I-35 and is the location of the Operations Management class. Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Megan Rule | Staff Writer

Instead of just stepping outside the box Dr. Blaine McCormick and his students step outside the classroom entirely to learn about the supply chain, with trucks roaring underneath them on the Interstate 35 pedestrian bridge.

“We’re outside taking advantage of something that’s one of a kind and unique to Baylor. It’s a great field trip for a supply chain class,” said McCormick, Baylor professor and chair of the department of management “That’s the first thing, is to take real advantage of an unexpected rich resource that’s been by Baylor since the ’60s.”

Currently, the truck-spotting lesson is taught in McCormick’s “Operations Management” class. McCormick said he got the idea from watching a local man pray on the bridge regularly, with his hand outstretched and wearing long garments. McCormick said he thought about how much variety there is in what could be seen from that man’s viewpoint. After thinking about how trucks could be categorized, like butterflies or birds, the truck spotting lesson was born, McCormick said.

“Truck spotting helped uncover an elaborate system of distribution that we normally don’t value. With it, we are able to eat fresh food, fuel our cars and keep up to date with the latest tech,” Little Rock, Ark., junior William Goodrich wrote in an email to the Lariat. “It was a very strange thing to have fun doing. Now every time I’m driving on the highway, I can value this part of the supply chain.”

McCormick said this lesson gives students a greater appreciation for all they see. McCormick said that when deciding between teaching a PowerPoint or teaching in a real-life environment, the live option wins out. The trucks working as the supply chain normally come as invisible to people, but they are actually an important way of moving products across the country and the world, the professor said. McCormick said students are stunned to see how much is being transported right in their backyards.

“The truck spotting lesson is one of my all-time favorite exercises in college so far. Instead of just reading about the supply chain, we were able to witness an important factor in the supply chain firsthand,” Inez senior April Jungbauer wrote in an email to the Lariat. “Transportation is one of the most influential segments in the supply chain. Customers value getting their products quickly but at a reasonable cost.”

McCormick began this lesson in spring 2015. He said he had some people who knew the trucking industry help him categorize the trucks to develop the four-page guide used in the lesson. Students learn to identify everything from refrigerated trucks down to bobtails, which are trucks driving without the load, McCormick said.

“As the students get up there, they realize that the things they will want tomorrow and later in the week are already coming their way, without them even asking for them, that the supply chain is working almost imperceptibly, virtually invisibly bringing them what they want before they even ask for it,” McCormick said. “And it’s so reliable that you don’t go to the store worrying they don’t have chicken or juice or shoes.”

McCormick said his ultimate goal in teaching this lesson is gratitude and compassion. He said he tries to ensure students are thankful for how the supply chain works in their favor, in addition to having compassion for those who drive days on end rather than being frustrated with the large vehicles.

“Those are humans doing their job, working for the students, bringing their gas that they need, bringing their food that they need and bringing their retail that they need. It’s an awakening day,” McCormick said.

The truck-spotting class is a prime example of a hands-on class, which is a part of the business school‘s business statement. This also helps develop men and women for worldwide leadership and service, because, McCormick said, the globe is moving up and down I-35. Standing on the bridge supports the Baylor‘s mission by giving one of the most global views possible, with container boxes from overseas passing by constantly.

“This exercise helped me to recognize the sheer volume of products that are transported by trucks,” Jungbauer said. “Until this exercise, I never realized how many types of 18-wheelers there are. However, after this exercise, I realized how wide of a variety of products can be shipped on 18-wheelers.”

The pedestrian bridge is located at the end of 8th St. near Common Grounds.