When Jared Zandee ‘25 enrolled in the Calvin University School of Business global supply chain management practicum, he was expecting “a fun trip to Mexico with his buddies.” What he experienced was significantly more than that.

“I was amazed at how much I learned,” said Zandee, an operations and supply chain management major. “Being on the factory floors and watching so many different products being made was so interesting. It was incredibly intriguing watching how efficient they were. It totally confirmed for me that supply chain is something I want to go into.” 

Other students in the two-week intensive course were equally impressed.

“I had been on a couple of factory tours, so I felt like I had a pretty good understanding of what to expect,” said Simon Rylaarsdam ‘24. “But I was amazed by the level of discussion we were able to have with company leaders.”

Rylaarsdam was also struck by how much his classroom learning applied to what he was experiencing while walking the factory floors.

“Sometimes in the classroom it’s hard to understand things without seeing them in practice,” he said. “It really surprised me how many things we talked about in class stuck with me and helped me understand what we were seeing and talking about in a deeper way.”

This is exactly the type of impact Calvin School of Business professor, Philip Johnson, had in mind when he drew up the plans for the practicum.

Creating Context

The practicum started on Calvin's campus with eight weeks of classroom study in global supply chain management taught by Johnson and professor of Finance, Leonard Van Drunen. Over winter break, students then had the opportunity to travel to Monterrey, Mexico where they were introduced to the global manufacturing and supply chain management processes of 12 North American companies, including Vermeer, John Deere, Whirlpool, Steelcase, Innotec, Genie, and others.

The students spent much of each day bouncing back and forth between tours of factory floors and rich discussions with upper-level management.

“One of the most important things we can do is give our students context,” said Johnson. “What does it mean to manage a global supply chain on the ground, not just in an Excel spreadsheet we build in class? What does it mean to watch something go into the factory as a piece of steel and come out as a $120,000 piece of equipment? How do you equip and empower the people, companies, and communities who want to facilitate that?

“Many people believe factories are dirty, grungy places,” he continued. “Those at the forefront of global manufacturing are not. They are clean and well-lit, they provide good incomes and working conditions, and create things that customers love. The students got to experience that in real time. It was awesome.” 

The Vermeer Connection

From Monterrey, the group traveled to Pella, IA to visit the headquarters of the Vermeer Corporation, an international manufacturer of industrial and agricultural equipment with close ties to Calvin.

“Vermeer is a world-class manufacturer built on the values we want Calvin students to emulate,” said Johnson. “Vermeer not only invests in leading-edge technology to produce excellent products for a global market, but it also invests extensively in its people and in the communities in which it works, because its leadership understands all people are made in the image of God. We want our students to develop the commitment and skills to do business the same way.”

Vermeer has a rich history of investing in Calvin and other Christian liberal arts colleges and universities. They provide scholarship support for Calvin’s global supply chain management practicum as a way of defraying costs for students, making the international experience accessible, and introducing students to Vermeer’s global operations and the operations of other companies.

“We enjoy supporting experiences for the students versus other ways to donate because we believe it is important for students to get some exposure to who Vermeer is as well as understanding global business,” said Mindi Vanden Bosch, Vermeer’s vice president of operations and Calvin alumna.

That exposure has also proved beneficial for Vermeer, who has since hired two of the students who visited on the trip, one of whom is Simon Rylaarsdam.

“Being able to go to Vermeer and experience the company culture and see all of the cool things that are happening there set off a spark in my mind that maybe this was the place that I was being called to,” said Rylaarsdam.

“One of the main influencing factors for me was being able to talk with the CEO and hearing about why they’re doing what they’re doing and how that’s driven by their identity and Christian faith perspective,” he said. “Finding a place that aligns with my gifts and passions and values my faith is really exciting.”

Not Just for Business Majors

The practicum is open to students across Calvin, not just business majors.

Guilianna Giordano ‘24, an engineering major, was intrigued by the opportunity to enhance her understanding of how factories work and how products are created.

“I knew very little about manufacturing or supply chain management leading up to the class. Learning about suppliers, how products are made, and how everything is moved around the globe was amazing,” she said. “I would encourage more engineering and other non-business students to go. The collaboration and learning across different majors really enhanced the trip.”

“That is part of the beauty of liberal arts education,” said Johnson. “We can intentionally create these opportunities where we can all learn from each other. This is what makes Calvin uniquely Calvin.”

Looking Ahead

While the second trip to Mexico is already planned for January 2025, plans are also in the works for an additional learning experience in Europe or Brazil in May 2025. Going forward, it is anticipated there will be two trips annually to different parts of the world, each ending with a stop in Pella, IA to visit Vermeer headquarters.

“What we’re doing at Calvin is really exciting,” said Johnson, “and you’re not going to find it anywhere else. It’s hands-on experiential learning, its taught from a Reformed Christian perspective, and it’s tied to an operations and supply chain management major. It’s Calvin; it’s unique, and we would love to have others join us in that mission.”