College for America Blog

Real-world projects give rise to business results [case study]


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Posted In: Students

Jul • 1 • 2014

Matthew Mahler was determined to be the first in his family to earn a college degree. He is motivated and open-minded, and he jumped on the opportunity to participate in a unique degree program when his employer, Panera Bread, offered it by partnering with College for America.

As an independent individual, Matthew initially worried about the program’s team-based projects because he preferred learning on his own. But after working on his first team project, he realized that he enjoyed collaborating with other students. “The group interaction increased my motivation and even deepened my learning,” he shared. Inspired by his experience, Matthew started regularly posting in the CfA Learning Community, an online social site for CfA students, to respond to his peers’ questions and concerns. He now enjoys supporting students as much as learning on his own.

Matthew is a go-getter, so he set an aggressive learning pace for himself. He stayed on track with a well-planned study routine, but when his work schedule changed to third shift, three months into the program, his plan was interrupted. So he adjusted: he quickly developed a new routine and was back on track within a month. In just seven months, Matt completed more than 50 real-world, business-applicable projects and mastered 120 competencies to earn an Associate of Arts in General Studies with a Concentration in Business.

With his newly demonstrated competencies, Panera Bread asked Matthew, a sanitation lead, to accept a role as an interim project manager to improve a supply chain process. “Now I know how to obtain information, determine the quality of data, and create a way to manage and then communicate that information,” said Matthew of the critical skills that helped him make Panera’s ordering processes more efficient and accurate.

He explained, “To improve the quality of information we were working with, I started tracking daily ingredient usage with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. I used this information to be more precise in ordering our weekly ingredients. I also changed the ordering procedure to include writing out our needs by email instead of fax. This eliminated lost or unreadable faxes and also created a record of our weekly orders.”

Matthew’s recently refined capabilities also helped him to more effectively communicate with his associates in production. He explained that with the data, “I could see when there was an over-scaling of ingredients, so I would have tangible data to show the mixers while coaching them.” Over-scaling translated into wasted dollars, and the data, combined with his communication skills, helped him effectively articulate that to the mixers.

By better managing information and clearly communicating with production team and supplier, Matthew helped improve factory efficiency, shrink waste, and practically eliminate product ordering errors and shortages. With these results, Matthew is more confident in his capabilities and is driven to work toward a supervisory position with Panera Bread.