Virtual tours, simulations enhance the remote learning experience for students in Freights and Ports class

Anne Strauss-Wieder, Director of Freight Planning at North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and Bloustein School instructor, was looking for a way to enhance the learning experience for her graduate class on “Freights and Ports” at the Bloustein School in the 2021 virtual setting necessitated by the pandemic.

Despite the fact that the largest container port in the eastern United States is in New Jersey, most of her students had never been to a port. Pre-pandemic, Professor Strauss-Wieder would take her class for two supply chain and port tours each semester; over the last several years, graduate students have visited distribution centers, production operations, and the Port of New York and New Jersey.

When the state and region went on lockdown last year and the university adopted remote learning, the site visit learning experience needed to change. As past president of the New Jersey Roundtable of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals and through her involvement in other professional organizations, Professor Strauss-Wieder was able to draw upon her connections in the supply chain industry to provide alternative virtual experiences by working with the staff of the Port Authority and the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN).

Although not physically able to visit sites, a virtual tour was organized and opened to students and faculty across the Bloustein School and Rutgers who otherwise would not have been able to attend or participate. This included students from the supply-chain classes offered by Rutgers Business School. It was all geared to providing different types of learning experiences to students during the pandemic.

The virtual tour was organized and led by staff from the Port Authority who started the event with a 101-level introduction to the agency and the port complex in New Jersey, which was the birthplace of containerization. Senior Port executives used aerials and live information to show the Port operations to the participants, providing a great overview to students and faculty to actually see what goes on at the various maritime terminals in the New Jersey metropolitan area.

Kathy Fulton, Executive Director of ALAN, also led a virtual simulation of how critical supplies are provided to communities in an unfolding disaster, a simulation that is used by FEMA. The recently hosted disaster simulation used virtual and live-action role-playing to simulate post-disaster supply chains for the key commodities of food, medicine, and water. Using smartphones and tablets, attendees played the roles of different organizations working in a crisis scenario.

Prof. Strauss-Wieder believes that the Bloustein School was the first planning program to offer a freight component as part of the planning curriculum. At the beginning of each semester, students are asked what they hope to achieve by taking this class; at the end, they are asked if they achieved it. Students conduct a capstone project as part of the course, involving both a paper and a presentation, where they select an individual topic reflecting an intersection between freight and public policy. Senior executives from both public agencies and the private sector are recruited to serve as mentors to hear the presentations. The capstone effort is designed to be both a freight learning experience as well as opportunities to hone the students’ professional skills.

While the movement of goods has gone on for literally thousands of years, freight movement in its many forms and modes is still evolving. This year’s capstone projects look at the use of drones, the electrification of trucks, and the evolution of last-mile challenges in the face of COVID. The students gain an understanding of freight within the context of planning and policy and the need to keeping goods moving in the 21st century and beyond no matter the challenge.