Alumni Spotlight: Q&A with Shelly Ballard: Supply Chain Engineering with a Humanitarian Focus
You received your undergraduate degree in industrial engineering. What about supply chain engineering interested you so that you wanted to get your master’s degree in it, particularly at Georgia Tech?
What led me to Georgia Tech is the great group of professors who make up the Health & Humanitarian Systems Center. I wanted to learn from the leaders in this emerging field. I chose to study supply chain engineering because it has more of a focus on practical application as opposed to a more theoretical focus in the general industrial engineering master’s program.
What was your favorite aspect of the program while you were studying at ISyE, and why?
I appreciated the international diversity within the students and the professors because it brought so many different perspectives to whatever we were learning. It played a role in our team projects, when we would have guest speakers, and when we were asked to share emerging technology or news in the field of supply chain with the class. Also, through partnering with other universities, we got real-life practice in working and learning with those who were not physically in the classroom.
In my current job, my team is comprised of people of many nationalities who are located throughout the entire U.S. Learning how to best communicate with remote teammates has become very important in the current working culture, and I started that process at Georgia Tech.
Give an overview of your career since graduating with your M.S. in Supply Chain Engineering.
After graduating, I searched for jobs in the nonprofit space but was unsuccessful. I decided to get some experience in the corporate world that I could later bring to the nonprofit sector and applied for a business analyst-type role in supply chain development at The Home Depot. My job focused on partnering with IT to create transportation systems solutions for any new project coming down the pipe.
I then found an opportunity to get some nonprofit experience in logistics at Habitat for Humanity International. I helped manage warehouse inventory of gift-in-kind donations and distribute these items to ReStores throughout the U.S.
Just over a year ago, I moved to the American Cancer Society where I serve as the main process consultant for our supply chain department. Whenever our department begins something new, I help to figure out how we are going to accomplish it with our people, systems, and process. I also conduct reviews of existing systems and processes to discover new and more efficient ways of accomplishing our goals.
You’ve done quite a bit of work in the humanitarian sector, what with your study abroad experience in France, your research in the Caribbean, your internship and later employment with Habitat for Humanity, and now with the American Cancer Society. What about this particular sector draws you to it?
Since high school, I have wanted my career to have some kind of international impact that improves the lives of people around the globe. I also have a strong passion to use the skills and principles of our field in the humanitarian sector. Typically, the types of people who start up and lead humanitarian organizations are passionate, energizing, and mission-driven. They hire people who can fulfill that mission. Many times these organizations don’t have people who focus on optimizing their impact using the same or fewer resources. That’s the gap I want to fill. I want to focus on making donor dollars go further in these organizations.
Why is supply chain work so important in the humanitarian sector? Or, put another way, with your training and background in supply chain engineering, what do you bring to these positions?
It is important that leaders of the humanitarian sector continue to realize the value that supply chain operations and logistics can bring to their organizations. The work that I do on a daily basis saves my organization money and time, and ultimately helps us to be more effective in our mission. Supply chain engineers bring analytical tools and objective perspectives to a humanitarian field that often neglects these business practices.
My education and background give me the confidence to stand behind the changes we recommend, especially when they can be unpopular. However, in my experience, I have also learned that supply chain engineers like me must learn to listen and absorb the values of their humanitarian organizations and to not engineer away their mission and passion for the sole sake of improved efficiency. We must find the path that embraces both efficiency and the humanitarian spirit.