KINGSTON, R.I. – Feb. 8, 2024 – Four University of Rhode Island students from a College of Business global supply chain management class were among the top finishers in the Global Sustainability Supply Chain Case Competition sponsored by the United Nations Group of Friends for Sustainable Transport.
In a field of 71 teams, Jose Gonzalez ’24 and Maya Casagrande ’25 won the gold in the paired-teams category, and Noah Blake ’25 and Emily Tingley ’24 earned the bronze. Both URI teams were paired with students from Beijing Wuzi University in China. Gonzalez and Casagrande’s team also earned bronze in the Best Sustainable Solutions category.
The competition, which was held virtually over the fall semester, attracted 250 students from more than 30 colleges and universities from around the world to solve global supply chain challenges while contributing to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
“Initially, my expectation was that our students would just learn from the competition by participating,” said Professor Koray Özpolat, who offered students the opportunity to take part in the competition as part of his global supply chain class. “But they went above and beyond the course requirements and developed smart and feasible supply chain solutions in support of the U.N.’s goals. Our students demonstrated that learning in URI classrooms spills over to the public domain and helps solve real-world problems. As a public university, this is one way we give back to society.”
The student teams were able to choose from a half-dozen case studies that outlined real sustainability challenges faced by local and international companies. To advance, teams submitted a written case analysis using a press release and frequently asked questions format. The top 35 teams moved on to present their analyses to a panel of judges over Zoom. In December, 12 finalists presented their refined analyses before judges, who included representatives from such global institutions as the World Bank Group, U.N. Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative.
Casagrande of Higganum, Connecticut, a junior majoring in global business and Spanish, wanted to participate in the competition for the opportunity to work with students from another country and hone her presentation and critical-thinking skills.
“The competition was an incredibly rewarding experience,” she said. “The awards we won reflect how hard our team worked. This competition has served as a platform for personal and professional growth, providing me with practical knowledge and the satisfaction of achieving success in a challenging and competitive environment.”
“I’m a really competitive person and I like to express my ideas,” said Gonzalez, a senior in supply chain management who is originally from Valencia, Venezuela and now lives in Johnston. “I wanted to compete in the challenge because these were real-life case studies based on companies in different parts of the world and it would be a charm if we won the competition.”
Casagrande and Gonzalez’s team chose a case involving Babemax, a Chinese retailer in maternity and infant products. The students’ challenge was to design a more efficient and sustainable process of transporting products from Babemax’s warehouse to its hundreds of stores around China. The team devised a plan for a new way of loading the company’s delivery trucks that used high-density polyethylene containers instead of pallets to maximize space. Besides being recyclable, the containers would provide efficiency in handling inventory and the transporting and storing of goods.
The case analysis included steps the company could take to reduce its carbon footprint, including investing in sustainable certifications, green technology and electric delivery vans, Casagrande said.
“We did extensive research on the materials we recommended for the containers,” said Gonzalez. “But what helped us were our daily supply chain classes. If you’re talking about transportation, distribution and sustainability daily, that helps open your mind to see things from a different perspective.”
Like their classmates, Blake and Tingley enjoyed working with their teammates from China, meeting with them virtually twice a week during the competition. They also gained a better appreciation of sustainability.
“The competition definitely opened my eyes to a new part of supply chain that I’m very interested in,” said Tingley of Lebanon, Connecticut, who will graduate this May with a degree in supply chain management. “Sustainability specifically is something that I’m very interested in working in after graduation.”
“This competition made me realize that sustainability is something that’s going to be increasingly popular within the supply chain in the coming years, especially after the pandemic,” added Blake, a junior majoring in supply chain management and entrepreneurship from Middletown, Connecticut. “The pandemic unveiled the vulnerabilities of our supply chain, emphasizing the need for restructuring. Now, more than ever, we are entering a phase where significant changes can be made to promote great sustainability.”
Their team chose a case study that involved efficiently integrating the use of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOLs) in the Chicago metro area to transport cargo from the city’s two airports. They proposed a middle-mile approach that would utilize a proposed third airport in the Chicago area to move cargo by electric drones from the airport to distribution centers within a 50-mile radius. Their plan emphasized the aircraft’s sustainability and how the plan could be incorporated at airports around the world to serve nearby cities, Tingley said.
The analysis was deeply focused on aviation—an area of interest to Blake, who will intern this summer with Lockheed Martin in Stratford, Connecticut.
“It opened my mind a lot,” said Blake. “It actually narrowed down what I want to do with internships and what kind of jobs I want to look for after college.”
The winning teams will be awarded certificates and complimentary enrollment in the Global Supply Chain Classroom’s Post-Graduate Global Supply Chain Certification program.