A Competitive Edge in Supply Chain

A Competitive Edge in Supply Chain

As one of Indiana’s top high school basketball players, Carissa Garcia understands the importance of a strong team and a systematic approach to the game. “In basketball, if you have a team full of great guards but your posts lack the necessary skills needed, other teams will scout this and quickly realize that is a weakness to help them win,” she explained.

Now she’s applying those lessons along with what she learned from the Gatton College of Business and Economics’ Master of Science in Supply Chain Management program to her current role as a demand planner at Valvoline. “All aspects of a supply chain must be strong, or the company as a whole will suffer,” the 22-year-old said. “If any one area of the supply chain — from demand planning all the way to reverse logistics — fails to do their jobs, the entire supply chain suffers.”

Pushing up Court

Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Garcia attended Concordia Lutheran High School, where she excelled in academics and athletics. The four-year letter winner was named to the Indiana All-Star Team and also honored as the Summit Athletic Conference’s 2019 Tiffany Gooden Award winner.

Following her impressive high-school basketball career, Garcia took her talents to Northern University where she was a member of the women’s basketball team. Interested in a career in business, she initially decided to study finance and accounting. “My mom’s a CFO so I thought, ‘She’s done pretty well’, so I’ll follow in her footsteps,” Garcia said. However, she found herself struggling with the finance coursework during the COVID-19 quarantine and decided to change her major to supply chain. “Northern Kentucky is one of the few schools that has a global supply chain undergraduate program,” Garcia explained. “Supply chain lets you make a true impact on a business, and you can see it financially and operationally. I really wanted to be able to have that type of hands-on impact for any company that I ended up working for.”

Remaining in Kentucky

Garcia finished her undergraduate coursework early over a threeyear period and, in doing so, ended her collegiate basketball career much earlier than expected. “I did not plan to grow up that fast. I fully planned to play five years of collegiate basketball, but I realized 18 years of basketball was enough,” she said. “I also really enjoyed my undergraduate supply chain program at NKU, and I was ready to take that next step toward my career.”

Contemplating what would come next, Garcia decided on furthering her education. “The University of Kentucky felt like a natural fit, plus a UK degree carries a lot of weight,” she said. “I knew that supply chain was something I was really passionate about and wanted to study further but not a lot of schools offer a master’s degree in supply chain. Once I met Carol Chavez (Master of Science in Supply Chain Management Program Associate Director), I realized the Gatton professors were great, so I knew that was the place I should apply.”

Garcia wasn’t disappointed in her decision. “I really enjoyed Gatton. The program was newer, so the cohort was smaller,” she said. “I also loved that you could text the professors and they would go out of their way to answer. They would treat you almost as an equal, which I think is really important in a graduate setting.”

She also was interested in gaining professional experience, so she accepted an internship with Valvoline in 2022. Characteristically, Garcia worked full-time at the internship while maintaining a full-time class load. Valvoline took notice of her commitment and offered her a full-time position in March 2023. “I had to continue to do my internship duties until May, so I was learning a new job, doing my internship duties and responsibilities, and going to school full time,” she laughingly noted. “Fortunately, basketball prepared me to be able to actually do that.”

Garcia believes her athletic background has given her a competitive edge academically and professionally. “Playing Division I sports gives you a goal-setting mindset and then you put in the work to accomplish those goals,” she explained. “Sports in general also taught me great time management skills. Still to this day, I’ll be 15 minutes early to everything; it’s just in my DNA.”

Playing on a variety of teams over her athletic career also helped her learn how to work with others. “I don’t think people understand how much they are going to have to work with all sorts of people as they get older and how important it is to be open-minded before drawing a conclusion,” she said.

Gatton helped Garcia polish her academic and athletic experiences so she could apply them in a professional setting. “I think the master’s program really strengthened the concepts I learned in undergrad,” she said. “A good chunk of what we did at Gatton was data analysis related to supply chain, which I didn’t do at NKU.”

She also credits the master’s program’s capstone project, which involved working with a team to create an interactive visual of Valvoline’s global supply chain, with pushing her to grow. “What we were doing was nothing I had ever done at Valvoline. We built different charts, graphs and maps,” she said. “A lot of Valvoline’s leadership team watched our final presentation, so it was cool to get the Valvoline team’s feedback that we did a good job.” 

Now firmly in her career, Garcia is thankful for her experiences at UK and Gatton. “The University of Kentucky is a great school and in a great city,” Garcia said. “Once I get more settled in my career, I would love to support UK in any way. I also think it would be cool to go back to speak to Gatton classes when I get older. I want only the best for UK.“