Supply Chain Program Achieves Perfect Order

Published on August 10, 2023

By Elise Russell

“There was an aligning of the stars,” said Dr. James Kirby Easterling, director and assistant professor of global supply chain management, about the start of EKU’s Supply Chain Management program. “Doug [former EKU President Whitlock] had the vision, I had the capability and love of the university, and when we added timing, it just turned out perfectly.”

Easterling, a three-time EKU graduate from Pike County, Kentucky, began working in supply chain upon graduating with his bachelor’s in 1992 and spent over 20 years in high-level corporate roles.

In 2008, Easterling took an opportunity with his employer, Corning Incorporated and relocated his family to Tokyo, Japan. Having a keen affection for EKU, as evidenced by his thoughtfully displayed EKU-nostalgic office décor and his family’s ties to the university (Easterling’s wife and three daughters are also EKU graduates), he reached out to the alumni office to let them know about his upcoming overseas relocation.

As often happens when EKU connections are made, Easterling received a surprising email a few days thereafter: then-President Whitlock and his wife, Joanne, planned to travel to visit EKU’s sister university near Tokyo and wanted to meet Easterling and his family.

“Almost every time the Whitlocks came to Japan, they would stop and visit my family,” Easterling said. “It’s hard to express how much that meant, especially to my daughters, who thought of them as extended grandparents.”

Over the years, Whitlock became more interested in supply chain as he learned about Easterling’s executive roles with Corning in Japan and later Singapore. When Easterling considered moving back to the United States to care for his mother, Whitlock presented him with the perfect opportunity: EKU wanted to start the first bachelor’s degree program in supply chain amongst the state universities, and he asked Easterling to lead the launch of the program in collaboration with Dr. Robert Rogow, then-dean of the College of Business and Technology, and Dr. Lana Carnes, then-chair of Management, Marketing, and International Business.

That was in 2014. “I came here, launched the program and two years turned into three, four, then five. And now this is my ninth year. Life is sort of funny, as I intended to go back to corporate roles after two years. Looks like I’m at EKU to stay,” Easterling said.

EKU’s Bachelor of Business Administration in management with a supply chain concentration, while no longer the only program in the state, stands out from the crowd with its comprehensive perspective and real-world applications.

“We teach the whole supply chain process here, unlike many universities who only focus on one niche of supply chain management,” Easterling said. “When our students intern or get a job, the one thing I consistently hear from employers is that our students add value quickly. We teach them how to do things that translate directly into corporate America, including how to show up on time.”

As a result of the program’s network with major corporations, students often land internships and positions at companies such as Toyota, Hitachi, Lockheed-Martin, Carhartt, Valvoline and many others.

“I chose to pursue global supply chain because I knew this degree would provide the greatest knowledge in my desired career field and, meanwhile, remain dynamic enough to fit the ever-changing, corporate environment,” said Shiloh DeVore, ’22, associate product safety and compliance specialist for Carhartt. 

Brandie Dawson, ’97, senior director of talent acquisition at Valvoline, appreciates the link her company has with EKU as it “helps us discover emerging talent early, expand our talent pool, diversify our workforce and bring a fresh perspective from the classroom.” 

Further stamping the partnership, Valvoline committed micro-scholarships to help EKU students achieve their academic and career dreams.

Easterling constantly looks for opportunities to advance the supply chain program and equip students with skills for success. In this spirit of continuous improvement, an advisory board comprised of business executives, provides input from an industry perspective.

As Easterling reflects on the program’s beginnings and future, he remembers the influence of Dr. Bertee Adkins on his own educational and career experience. Adkins, a business communications professor at EKU for more than 20 years, was widely known for his love and support of students, inside and outside the classroom.

“Dr. Adkins was from Floyd County, and he saw something in me as a young man from neighboring Pike County. He invested heavily in me during my time at EKU, and then he was my mentor after I graduated and all throughout my corporate career,” Easterling said. He now continues the same type of caring, compassion and commitment toward students that Adkins showed him more than three decades ago.

“My relationship with students doesn’t end when they graduate,” Easterling concluded. “That’s just the start of it. I know where all my supply chain grads are working, and many of them stop by my home or office when they’re passing through Richmond.”  

Abigale Wilson, a 2019 supply chain graduate and now indirect purchasing analyst for Toyota, said, “The professors in the supply chain program and the business center genuinely care about their students and their success. It is that interaction and preparation for the ‘real world’ that makes EKU’s Supply Chain program unique and very successful.” 

Learn more about EKU’s Global Supply Chain Management program.