A Timely Talk in Engineering

Each year, Chapin students are fortunate to meet a variety of accomplished professionals whose fascinating careers and valuable advice make a lasting impact. As the robust Distance-Learning Program continues, a number of impressive men and women have visited classes remotely to share their real-world experiences and expertise.

In Upper School Engineering, for example, Dr. Prasad Akavoor invited a seasoned industrial engineer to talk to the class about the ins and outs of his exciting job, which focuses on supply chain management. Because he works for the retail giant Walmart, which has remained open during the pandemic, the informative presentation was exceptionally relevant.

“Good morning, everyone,” said Dr. Akavoor from his digital window as the Class 12 students settled in. “Pat Hudson is going to talk to us about how Walmart is handling the Coronavirus crisis and anything else you want to discuss.” As the students quickly discovered, this scientist imparted his considerable knowledge with a warm, accessible manner, leaving plenty of time for questions and comments.

After being granted “co-hosting” rights, Mr. Hudson, who is based in New Jersey and manages of team of engineers, embarked on an overview of his company’s current COVID-19 initiatives, describing how the crisis has affected the stores’ inventory. “Can you guys see my screen?” he asked as a blue-and-yellow page from the corporate website popped into view.

Joining the Chapin class from his home office, Mr. Hudson explained that Walmart has been categorized as an “essential business” because its stores – more than 11,500 operating worldwide – sell food and equipment like cleaning supplies, masks and gloves, “and all the things you need to quarantine and to function as a family and as individuals,” he said. Also, because there were insufficient U.S. testing sites, the store set up testing centers in some of its parking lots.

As Mr. Hudson spoke, the students followed along with interest, several posing thoughtful questions along the way. After raising her hand, one student asked, “Who came up with the idea to have the place where people buy their groceries also be the place where people can get tested?”

“Some small towns gravitate around their Walmart because everything they buy is from there, so it made it convenient in a lot of the country,” responded Mr. Hudson.

Another student wondered about the shortage of pork, which brought the conservation back to the supply chain, Mr. Hudson’s area of specialization. “What impact did it have on your business?” she said.

“This is an example of the disruption of the supply chain,” Mr. Hudson commented. “One pork facility in Pennsylvania had a significant amount of cases, so they shut down. When that happens, the pork needs to be sent from other facilities. They had to get the pork all the way from Georgia because the Pennsylvania plant was closed.”

Because most people are continuing to shelter in place, Mr. Hudson emphasized that the way we shop has “changed drastically.” Impacted by waves of unusually high consumer demand, supply shortages have run the gamut from hand sanitizer and toilet paper early on to meat and poultry to personal care products like razors and hair coloring kits.

With stay-at-home orders expanding into June, the buying trend has shifted to the entertainment sphere. “PlayStations, Nintendos and board games are sold out,” the speaker said, stressing that outdoor recreation has also been considerably impacted. “You can’t find a bike nowadays,” he added.

“What other purchasing waves are you seeing right now?” another student inquired. “The last one I heard was that all sewing machines were sold out because people were struggling to buy masks, so they were buying sewing machines to make their own,” Mr. Hudson said. “I was like, huh, we would have never thought about sewing machines. But apparently, they were flying off the shelf.”

As the riveting and timely conversation came to a close, Mr. Hudson thanked the students for their attention and impressive questions. “By the way, they’re all seniors. This is their last class,” Dr. Akavoor pointed out.

“Congratulations!” exclaimed this excellent guest speaker, smiling at the checkerboard of students’ faces. “Good luck, girls, and stay healthy. I left Dr. Akavoor my contact information if you have any questions as you move through college.”