Innovative scholarship app offers experiential learning, glimpse into industry

“As a student at Western,” says Deborah Dull, ’07, “I applied for every scholarship under the sun to support my way through college. I was definitely passionate about giving back as soon as I could, so when I landed at Microsoft for my first job in supply chain management, it was a no-brainer.”

What the former business administration major envisioned as part of her designated scholarship’s application process was to include an industry angle, one that would focus on a business problem that graduates would face in a professional setting and would complement the more academic scholarships that were already in place at Western. “I read and filled out a lot of scholarship applications,” says Dull, “and they all have similar aspects in terms of writing an essay on what you want to do with your life, how the degree is going to get you work and what direction you want to go in. I wanted to do something a bit different, but something that would still challenge the applicants to consider their chosen focus.”

Thus, the Available To Promise Scholarship application – the scholarship’s name is a supply-chain-management reference to inventory that is immediately accessible – invites manufacturing and supply chain management or operation management program students to address and solve a problem.

“It might be something like, ‘You’re working at a distribution center and it’s not performing well. Create a recovery plan.’ Or ‘You have a major time constraint and customer orders are coming in. What’s your recommendation to your leadership team?’ explains Dull. “Those are pretty vague questions, but that’s what they’re going to be confronted with when they get out in the workplace. We ask them to find a solution; create an argument or influential way to approach their leadership team; anticipate any questions that might come up; and answer them.” The students, she says, “always knock it out of the park. The winner the first year was a first-year student! And I’ve had students come up to me afterwards to say that, even though they didn’t get the scholarship, they really enjoyed the application process, that it was fun.” A dedicated committee assesses the anonymous applications; the winner gets the scholarship – and the mentorship of Dull, as well.

Dull, who spent six years at Microsoft, earning a master of science during that time via the University of Liverpool’s online program – “they price the program by your country’s GDP, so there were lots of students from Africa. I had never been exposed to those countries’ economies or industries before and it made for incredibly rich discussions” – has now landed at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and has been spending the last few months in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa, learning about the public health sector for her new role as a supply chain program officer.

In place since 2012 – and now fully endowed thanks to a recent $50,000 gift from Dull – her scholarship draws between six and ten curious and committed participants every year. “It’s a chance for them to do a different type of scholarship application,” says Dull. “It’s a breath of fresh air, and it’s an interesting challenge. And, ideally, it expands their horizon while offering a real learning experience.”