Chris LaRosa, Penn State Scranton's first PSCM graduate

New alumnus found niche in Project and Supply Chain Management program

Chris LaRosa, '20, the campus' first Project and Supply Chain Management graduate, is now working for the U.S. Department of Defense at Tobyhanna Army Depot.
By: Josh McAuliffe

DUNMORE, Pa. – Chris LaRosa’s college of choice had to leave him with “as little debt as possible” upon graduation.

“I needed to choose the best ‘bang for your buck’ college,” he said. “Penn State Scranton quickly came into my sight and stood above all other colleges in terms of education and financials.”

LaRosa brought that same practicality and foresight to his major, ultimately settling on the campus’ Project and Supply Chain Management (PSCM) program

In May, LaRosa became the campus’ first PSCM graduate. Two days after commencement, he started his new full-time position as a project controller with the U.S. Department of Defense at Tobyhanna Army Depot.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity,” said the 22-year-old Moscow resident. “This is an incredible and priceless experience, being put on the front lines of a large United States Air Force project management team.”

The program was lucky to have LaRosa as its groundbreaking student, said Assistant Professor of Business and PSCM Program Coordinator James Wilkerson, Ph.D.

According to Wilkerson, LaRosa never flinched at the heavy, challenging course loads, and proved extremely flexible in navigating the hiccups that commonly occur with any new degree program.

“Chris was always aware of exactly where he was in the program and always came to advising sessions with intelligent questions and having mapped out his classes ahead of time. We used to ponder together how great it would be if we could clone him so he could more easily cover all his classes and multiple internships,” said Wilkerson, who also serves as business program coordinator.

“The more confident and focused Chris became, the more convinced I, as program coordinator, became that the program could succeed and scale up. So, he and I both grew together in the PSCM program.”

“Dr. Wilkerson is the perfect person to be running the program,” LaRosa said. “He is a top-notch individual that will put in extra time to invest in students, making sure they are doing what is best for them. Dr. Wilkerson and I worked together closely throughout my time at Penn State Scranton and made a lot of impossible situations possible.”

Initiated at several University College campuses in 2016, the PSCM degree eventually made its way to Scranton in 2018 and was modeled on the long-existing programs at the University Park and Behrend campuses. Scranton currently shares the program with the Hazleton, Lehigh Valley, Schuylkill and Wilkes-Barre campuses.

It made perfect sense to add the degree to the campus’ offerings, given the field’s essential place in the global business community.

“Interconnected systems and channels for delivering, producing, storing, staging and distributing products and services to consumer and user markets have all grown and become more sophisticated the world over,” Wilkerson said. “Project management has become an established professional field and academic discipline in large part because optimizing supply chains requires complex, precise project management. The world needs well-educated people to design, manage and optimize supply chains, so the related job market is robust.”

Currently, seven campus students are enrolled in the program, with several more taking the five courses required for entry, Wilkerson said.

The program’s curriculum includes all parts of the physical supply chain (inbound supplies, conversion and storage, outbound goods distribution), the software platforms that support supply chains, project management (both individual projects and portfolio project management), and related courses in statistical forecasting and human resource management. In addition, the Scranton area’s numerous logistics and distribution operations offer an array of internship opportunities.

Once they’ve completed their studies, PSCM graduates are prepared for careers as analysts, supervisors and managers, specialists, planners and consultants in a variety of industries where supply chains and complex projects are a given.

Wilkerson said the program not only prepares graduates to work in the trucking and warehousing industries, but also rail systems, ocean transport, air systems using drones and cargo airplanes, digital supply chains and, at some point in the future, outer space supply chains.

“Martian and lunar colonies will need supply chain and project management, too, you know,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said Assistant Professor of PSCM Zhuang Qian, Ph.D., has been an excellent addition to the campus faculty. Meanwhile, the program will soon establish an industry advisory council, and will continue to expand its network of internship contacts.   

“Obviously, I’d like to see the program grow, and I’d like to see women and international students in the program,” Wilkerson said.

Given his career outlook, LaRosa makes for a terrific early success story.

He enrolled at the campus in spring 2017 as a pre-engineering major, with the intent of taking several courses before declaring a major. Eventually, he picked PSCM, with the idea of pursuing a career that allowed him to shape and direct multidimensional projects from inception to completion.

“I quickly learned project management was exactly what I desired,” LaRosa said. “Project management allows me to see the entire picture – that is, being part of the engineering, budgeting, scheduling and everything in between.”

LaRosa completed not one, but two rewarding internship opportunities while pursuing his degree.

During his sophomore year, he started a year-and-a-half internship at Hendrick Manufacturing in Carbondale. The company’s supply chain manager and production and purchasing experts provided him with extensive training in supply chain principles, purchasing, vendor management and the production process.

Following that experience, LaRosa was convinced he wanted to pursue a career as a project manager. With encouragement from the Hendrick team, he successfully applied for a Department of Defense project management internship at Tobyhanna.

That internship led directly to LaRosa’s current job. He’s excited about what’s to come professionally, and eternally grateful for having begun his journey at Penn State Scranton.

“The PSCM program gave me incredible opportunities,” he said. “I would unquestionably recommend the program to other students if they have an interest in the field. It is worth it.”