Inspiring Students with Math and Real-World Solutions

Through her love for math and unique perspective on the world, Julie Niederhoff, associate professor of supply chain management (SCM) at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, found her niche in supply chain and uses her expertise to inspire students every day.

Niederhoff graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in mathematics, then went on to get an MSBA and Ph.D. in business administration from the Olin School of Business at Washington University.

She has had an affinity for math and a curiosity about how things work from a young age.

“I had endless questions and opinions about retail and other jobs I worked through high school and college,” said Niederhoff. She also recalled touring the factories and shops where her parents worked and asking several questions about the farm where she grew up.

She discovered the role of supply chain management while working at the Air Force Institute of Technology’s (AFIT) operations and logistics department as a teaching and research assistant during her senior year as an undergraduate student. It was there she fell in love with the intersection of math and real-world problems. She immediately set out to learn more, which led to her MSBA and Ph.D. work.

During her time as a graduate student, Niederhoff also consulted for military garment manufacturing, video rental services, healthcare, consumer packaged goods and food manufacturing, among others. These experiences set her up for a successful career using the business decision-making process.

Niederhoff originally wanted to be a math teacher, but by working as a high school student teacher, and as a teaching assistant in college classes at the University of Dayton and the master’s program at AFIT, she realized her love for the combination of topics, research and student engagement at the university level. Her dream job then became one in which she could share her passion for research and consulting with real-world problems with students.

“As much as I love math, what fascinates me most about SCM is the role of humans in the systems as decision-makers, contributors, customers and more,” Niederhoff explained. “I study the real behavior of humans in SCM decisions to see how setting up a production or service work environment changes the way employees work.”

For Niederhoff, the most rewarding aspect of teaching is that she has the opportunity to introduce and develop supply chain management concepts among her students.

“I love the experience of opening up a problem concept with students, having them realize that operational activities are (hopefully) carefully made decisions to align our resources and goals within the constraints of budgets, legal requirements and everything else. Fueling curiosity and engagement is a great way to spend a day,” she said. Niederhoff also explains that supply chain management is a “discovery major,” in that most students have never heard of or considered it before their sophomore year.

Each spring, she brings a team of students to a case competition. The competition is a chance for four supply chain management majors to experience an intense week of testing problem-solving skills, visiting companies and meeting leaders in the industry.

Niederhoff also has a talent for sewing. Her 14-year-old daughter shares a similar passion. For the past two years, the duo has had the opportunity to help with costumes for an international dance troupe, on movie sets, and in the ballet.

A sub-focus in her undergraduate degree was trauma, child development and psychology. Each year, during winter and summer breaks, Niederhoff volunteers with a team caring for orphaned children in Eastern Europe. Her philanthropic efforts inspire her in her research for humanitarian aid and logistics.

Niederhoff shared, “There is much need in this world, much generosity, but sadly so much waste due to inefficient use of physical goods and volunteer talent.”

Lindsey Godbout
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