Written by Craig Schreiner | Photo by Craig Schreiner
A project that began in spring 2020 by six seniors in supply chain management at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater resulted in a generous donation of equipment to the university’s science departments from MilliporeSigma, the life-science business of the Merck Group, based in Darmstadt, Germany, with significant locations in Madison, Milwaukee and Sheboygan Falls.
Sameer Prasad, a professor of supply chain management who guided the students’ project, describes the donation as the completion of a “perfect circle” in which longstanding relationships between a UW-Whitewater alumnus at MilliporeSigma’s facility in Milwaukee and faculty at UW-Whitewater opened a door for students to work on authentic supply chain management projects.
“This relationship has gone back years,” said Prasad of the connection between MilliporeSigma and the alumnus, who prefers to remain unnamed, and the supply chain management faculty and students at UW-Whitewater. “They are a great supporter of our program.”
As their capstone project last fall, supply chain management majors Rachel Anderson, from Menomonie, Ziran Deng, from Weifang, China, Jim Hecht, from Oconomowoc, Cole Mikolajczyk, from New Berlin, Luke Ruszczynski, from Oak Creek, and Dominic Swanson, from Union, Illinois, were tasked to develop a “decision support system” to help MilliporeSigma identify slower-moving products from its immense inventory that could be culled and put to greater use as donations. The students worked with data from the company’s Milwaukee warehouse, with results that could have applications at their other warehouses worldwide.
From left, Sameer Prasad, professor of supply chain management, discusses a capstone project for MilliporeSigma with Ziran Deng, Rachel Anderson, Luke Ruszczynski, Cole Mikolajczyk and Jim Hecht. Not shown is Dominic Swanson, another student collaborating on the project. (Screenshot from video courtesy Sameer Prasad, College of Business and Economics/UW-Whitewater)
“They (students) looked at hundreds of thousands of products that the company had and they created some pretty impressive models filtering out which items they need to donate,” said Prasad. “(MilliporeSigma) then turned around and said they wanted to donate some of the things to UW-Whitewater. They donated to other universities and nonprofits too.”
Associate Professor of Chemistry John Ejnik was asked to work with MilliporeSigma to identify items that could be put to use in labs, classrooms and facilities at UW-Whitewater. Within a week after submitting the list, Ejnik said pallets of new equipment began arriving at the university receiving dock. As the fall semester already nears midterm, Ejnik is teaching his chemistry classes while overseeing a supply chain of his own, inventorying each of the donated items and moving them along to their eventual users.
John Ejnik, associate professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry at UW-Whitewater, with the new equipment and supplies for science labs and undergraduate research donated to the university by MilliporeSigma of Milwaukee. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)
“There is a complete variety of lab equipment and supplies,” said Ejnik. “There’s everything from glassware that we’d use in our laboratories to equipment, balances, shakers, furnaces. There are even things like shelving units for research labs.”
It’s a jaw-dropping sight when Ejnik unlocks the door to the room filled with boxes upon boxes of new equipment. Because of its sheer volume, Ejnik said the MilliporeSigma gift likely will reach all four departments in Upham Hall, home to the sciences on the Whitewater campus, as well as the university’s Rock County campus in Janesville.
Ejnik said the quality and quantity of the MilliporeSigma donation will allow faculty to enhance and even expand undergraduate research projects. And, when a glass flask breaks during a lab, its replacement can come from the donation stock instead of the science budget. Still, Ejnik said the comments he’s heard from his faculty colleagues haven’t been about the material value of the goods.
“They (faculty) see it as an acknowledgement of their work helping students graduate and achieve success in science careers,” said Ejnik. In other words, the donation is a semi-truck-sized thank you for work well done.
MilliporeSigma employs UW-Whitewater graduates from both business and science programs in its operations in Milwaukee, including one recent graduate of the supply chain management program. Even prior to the donation, MilliporeSigma was a familiar name to Ejnik, as some of his former students have gone on to science careers there. And Prasad said he knows of at least 15 alumni who work in MilliporeSigma plants.
“When we have our career fairs, we always have a couple of our alumni from MilliporeSigma who come and set up a table to talk to our students,” said Ejnik. “It’s great that one of our (business) alumni in the MilliporeSigma company has this connection with our students, and made this connection.”
Back at the College of Business and Economics, Prasad reflected on what it all means.
“Today is the pandemic,” he said. “What is the focus of the pandemic? It’s supply chain and science, right?”
Sameer Prasad, professor of supply chain management, shown at Hyland Hall on the UW-Whitewater campus. Prasad mentored the students whose capstone project garnered the donation. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)
Of the many projects his students have done, Prasad said the project that resulted in the MilliporeSigma donation will always be special.
“This is such a good feeling,” he said. “Our students have done other projects for the World Bank and things like that, but we don’t see that impact directly on us.”
“The students figured out a solution that actually helped the company, which helped us, which will help future generations of our students,” he added.