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Professor Stonebraker’s Most Important Lesson: Perseverance

“Never give up.” That’s what Jeff Stonebraker, an associate professor of operations and supply chain management at the Poole College of Management, strives to teach his students in the classroom each semester.

The ten year Poole College veteran is a prime example of how hard work and perseverance can pay off, especially when you consider the journeys he took, both as a student and as a professional, to find his way to his current position at NC State University.

An atypical student experience

Stonebraker began his collegiate career at the University of Montevallo where he played collegiate golf and majored in recreation. Eventually, his interests shifted and he transferred to the University of South Florida (USF).

After making the first big step of transferring schools, he continued working against the grain, testing different waters in accounting, computer science and industrial engineering.

Three years, one school and four majors later, Stonebraker finally found his footing as an electrical engineering major, proving himself to be a testament to the value of persistence and determination.

A familiar journey

Similar to his experience as an undergraduate student, Stonebraker has learned firsthand as a professional that it can sometimes take longer than expected to find the perfect fit.

After graduating from USF, he spent fifteen years in the United States Air Force, where he evaluated ground-based radars around the world. He was later hired by the Air Force Academy, who sent him to Stanford University to earn his master’s degree in engineering-economic systems before reporting to duty. After serving three years on the faculty, the Academy sent him to Arizona State University, where he earned a Ph.D. in management science before returning to the Academy to teach for another three years.

“It was my dream job — I just loved it. I taught students calculus, differential equations, operations research and decision analysis in the math department. It was a lot of fun,” he says.

Stonebraker eventually decided to retire from the Air Force to pursue teaching opportunities at civilian universities, which — just like with choosing his college major — put his patience to the test.

“After I left the Air Force, it took me ten years to get a teaching position,” he says.

Stonebraker spent those ten years working in North Carolina at Bayer as a strategic planning manager and at GSK as a decision sciences manager — all while keeping his eyes open for teaching opportunities at universities across the nation. “My wife will attest to that,” he says of the numerous teaching positions he applied for over the years. “She’d say, ‘Okay, where are [you thinking] we are going to move now? I love it here in North Carolina.’ I probably applied to 100 schools over that ten year period.”

Stonebraker eventually received an offer at the University of Denver, and he and his family moved to Colorado where he worked as an assistant professor in the school’s Department of Statistics & Operations Technology. However, with North Carolina still in the back of his mind, he kept his options open and his eyes on the prize, and accepted an offer for his current position at NC State two years later.

Now, he says he feels more at home than ever.

“That’s why I encourage [my students] to keep at it. I mean it may not be easy […] but just set your sights, be broad and open to new opportunities, and just go for it,” he says.

Settling in

Stonebraker feels like he has found his sweet spot at NC State’s Poole College of Management. His work lies in the analytics space, where he specializes in problem-solving and decision analytics: topics he says are essential to all the foundational areas of supply chain and operations.

“It’s really core things that apply to whatever specific area of supply chain that you’re in, procurement, logistics, or production — you can model the decisions people are facing,” he says.

Stonebraker currently teaches these principles to undergraduate and MBA students in his decision analytics courses.

In addition to teaching, Stonebraker has spent much of his time at NC State applying his expertise to health care analytics and demand modeling — specifically on rare diseases like hemophilia — which, in addition to the practical nature of his courses, make him an especially distinctive and valuable faculty member and complement to the rest of the school’s subject matter experts.

“I know I said the Air Force Academy was my dream job. Well, I love teaching at NC State even more,” Stonebraker says. “I’m still teaching, but I have more flexibility to explore research areas I find most interesting and important.”

Stonebraker continues to share his journey with his students to let them know that with hard work, determination, and a bit of patience, they can attain the job of their dreams.

“What I’ve learned, and what I tell my students, is that you don’t ever give up. You just keep at it,” he says.

Click here to read about Stonebraker’s most recent research study.


This post was originally published in Supply Chain Resource Cooperative.