A 40-foot ocean freight container arrives at a hospital in war-torn Izyum, Ukraine. Within the shipment are hospital beds, gurneys and boxes with JMU students’ signatures.
This is the work of the Association of Supply Chain Management club, or ASCM, at JMU. William Ritchie, a business management professor and the faculty adviser of the club, said ASCM specializes in packing, loading, organizing and delivering medical supplies to areas in need across the globe.
“This is a great humanitarian effort for the students to be giving back to the community,” Ritchie said.
Within the past week, the club loaded two more containers that they shipped off to Samara University Hospital in Ethiopia. Along with a container to the Kharkov region of Ukraine in the fall of 2022, the club has worked with a total of 10 shipments since August 2020.
Such supplies can include bandages, personal protective equipment (PPE), masks and surgical drapes, Ritchie said.
Mihret Medical Supply Group, a nonprofit created by Virginia doctors, supplies the club with medical equipment to send to countries in need. Most of the equipment is within a year of being out of date, which entices hospitals to donate.
The equipment is inspected, tested and at times repaired, according to Mihret’s website. Ritchie said most of the supplies are still usable even past their expiration date.
“Kind of like a roll of paper towels,” Ritchie said. “If a roll of paper towels had an expiration date, and they said it was, like, next month? Well, if you keep it for six more months, what’s going to happen?”
Also provided from the Mihret Medical Supply collaboration are hospital contacts and connections to African countries for shipment, such as Ethiopia. About a year and a half ago, the Ethiopian ambassador visited the ASCM warehouse in Mt. Crawford, Virginia, to observe the program at work.
Interchange Group Inc. provided the Mt. Crawford workspace necessary for projects of this kind at a significant discount, Ritchie said. In 2020, the company donated a 2500-square-foot warehouse space and logistics help.
The ASCM club uses the workspace to provide additional logistics work and manpower to carry out Mihret’s mission.
“It was kind of, like they say the term, [a] match made in heaven,” Ritchie said of the intertwining companies.
Contributing to the logistical side of the collaboration is Katie Dorey, a junior computer information systems (CIS) major. Ritchie brought Dorey onto the project a few years ago to create an inventory system.
This can be done by the implementation of an enterprise resource planning system (ERP). This can also allow the club to use Odoo, an open source business app, to keep track of the club’s inventory more diligently, Dorey said.
Dorey’s ERP, alongside two Ukrainian JMU professors, Sergiy Dmytriyev and Dmytro Babik, contributed to the Izyum shipment. One of the professors was the club’s connection to the attacked republic that allowed for delivery.
“I would have never imagined that I could have made such a meaningful difference in something like that,” Dorey said. “We actually got to see some of the footage of them unpacking our stuff.”
John Tyler Montross, a senior management major and supply chain minor, is president of the ASCM club and contributed to the Ukraine shipment. For Montross, the collaboration is an opportunity to delve deeper into worldly issues.
“I don’t think I would have paid as much attention to how much the hospitals are lacking in countries in Africa,” Montross said. “[Also], along the lines of the war in Ukraine.”
In part with the conflict in Ukraine, different challenges like COVID-19 and supply chain shortages can cause issues when carrying out projects, Ritchie said.
For the Ukraine shipment, specifically, the container had to be redirected because of difficulties resulting from the war and COVID-19. This involved sending the crate to Rotterdam, Netherlands, for a guaranteed delivery that arrived both ahead of schedule and on budget.
“There’s still backups at the ports because of shortages in different parts of the world,” Ritchie said.
As a supply chain minor, Montross said he better understands the academic perspective of ASCM projects. He said Merk Tokman, the director of the minor, provides connections for the club’s projects.
Within the minor is MGT 461, the Introduction to Supply Chain Management course Ritchie teaches.
“Dr. Ritchie is really the backbone of the club,” Montross said. “He really leaves everybody well and always creates an amazing atmosphere.”
Students learn about ASCM tools, such as the Odoo ERP software, in this course, Montross said. Those in the class also visit the Mt. Crawford warehouse and complete inventories of donated hospital supplies.
For Ritchie, the skills learned both inside the club and in the classroom are most applicable to post-graduation careers. This information can be applied across the nonprofit, logistics and research fields, as well as other post-graduate fields.
“It definitely helps with experimental learning,” Ritchie said. “It’s hands-on experience for the students and, you know, ‘Hands on, minds on.’”
Montross has expressed interest in furthering a career related to the field. With his time in both the minor and the ASCM club, he said, he’s honing usable techniques that employers seek.
“You have the opportunity to further yourself and grow as a person, and the club kind of as a [talking point] about volunteering,” Montross said. “So I kind of see it as a dual threat.”
Dorey also commented on the importance of maintaining career connections throughout the concentrations of the program, attributing her own contacts to Ritchie.
After completing the two Ethiopian shipments, Ritchie said he’s thankful for those who support the ASCM projects.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to partner with Mihret Medical Supply and all the organizations that have helped us, [as well as] the support from the university [and] my department in the College of Business,” Ritchie said.