As an undergraduate, Ashley Lam studied in The School of Business at Portland State. A Boeing case competition opened the door for an internship and then a full-time job at Boeing while Lam was still in school. After graduation, she matriculated into the Master of Science in Global Supply Chain Management (MSGSCM). Earning a full-time degree is hard enough, and Lam was able to continue working full time. She even got promoted into management during the graduate program.
“It was a lot,” Lam says. Boeing supports employees by paying for their graduate studies in full, and many of Lam’s co-workers had taken advantage of this professional development benefit. Boeing managers are reasonably accommodating of employees who are earning a graduate degree: “If you have a heavy workload at Boeing, your boss avoids having you work weekends and overtime, but it was still very challenging.” But Lam describes frantically scheduling team project meetings during her lunch breaks and fitting in time to study at all hours after work.“I was working on the second shift, 3–11:30 p.m. It was impossible to meet with my teams for group projects.” Her classmates understood, but “it was a challenging year for sure.”
Working a demanding full-time job while earning a graduate degree is not for everyone, but Lam’s path allowed her to stay true to her goals. Every step of the way, she built a strong network and tirelessly advocated for herself.
Staying focused on growth
Lam entered Portland State as an undergraduate in her mid-20’s after working for years as a caterer. While many of her classmates were getting their first taste of independence and contemplating future careers, Lam was doing all she could to get hired full-time.
Between sophomore and junior year, Lam was hired for a Business Analyst internship in Hazardous Materials with Boeing. During that time, she conducted as many information interviews as she could. In each one, she made sure to communicate her interest in full-time work. She was hired as a Materials Analyst in RFID, where she increased visibility of parts and tooling items. Boeing paid for her to quickly move to Everett, Washington, where she completed the rest of her degree online.
Lam stayed focused on growing in her career. Seeing a lack of opportunities for advancement with her current team in Everett, Lam held another round of information interviews until she found the right chance to move to Boeing’s Renton site.
In Renton, she started working on the 737 program and gained expertise as a Lean Practitioner, which trained her in the new skills of project management and lean manufacturing. She was standardizing work and processes on the floor, including coaching, facilitation and training. She loved the hands-on aspect of working on the manufacturing floor.
Hungry for more professional development, Lam started coursework in the online MSGSCM program. She knew right away the graduate program was the right fit because of the strong connections she developed with supply chain faculty during her undergraduate experience, including Daniel Wong and Mellie Pullman. Lam trusted that the faculty’s wealth of industry knowledge would support her in upskilling quickly to advance her career.
Ascent at Boeing
Lam always knew she wanted to be a manager. She asked her boss if she might be considered for a temporary manager position. She had very good timing — Lam had expected to wait months, but a temp position opened in a week. Once again, her focus shifted with the new job. She led two manufacturing teams at the beginning of the Wing Systems Installation shop, the final shop before wings are joined to the body of the plane. After temping for nine months, she interviewed for and accepted a permanent manager position with that team.
Moving into management was a far bigger leap than her previous move from intern to individual contributor. She quickly had to learn more about the mechanics of airplanes, including hydraulics, wiring systems and more. “I have always gone into a new area like, ‘I am not the expert. You are the expert, and I am learning from you,’” says Lam. “That has always worked very well for me.” She believes this approach, of being competent while demonstrating compassion and vulnerability, is a foundational way to build trust with her employees.
Lam was also working on schoolwork every moment that she could outside of work hours, absorbing and operationalizing new information for both her job and degree.
Leveraging skills from graduate school for job success
Lam appreciates how the case studies in her graduate program supported her professional development. She heavily relied on one case study on warehousing at Walmart when her Boeing team was setting up a material center. Her forecasting class with Professor Mellie Pullman also had direct utility in forecasting usage for Boeing’s third-party vendors. Lam says she reviews old assignments to help her on the job. She also frequently applies Voice of the Customer (VOC), a useful lean methodology she learned about in the MSGSCM.
As a manager, she cites communication as the single most important skill she’s developed. At a large company like Boeing, Lam says messages can get lost through the hierarchy levels, but clear communication is essential for building trust and getting work done. She also acknowledges the role networking played in her career successes. All of her moves happened because of extensive targeted information interviews. She says that this network building is “even more critical for female leaders.” Within Boeing’s manufacturing organization, there are far more male managers than female managers. Lam says, “sometimes things come up where you really need that support group for people who understand what you’re going through.” She has found female co-managers can be especially useful for empathizing and providing support. Relying on her network and mentors has allowed her to flourish in her leadership role: “I can be authentic without shying away from being vulnerable.”
For young professionals looking to advance in supply chain, Lam recommends building a network for support and cultivating the confidence to push for your ambitions. “Earlier in my career, I wish I had had more bravery to advocate for myself,” she says. One manager I had said, ‘No one can read your mind on what you want and where you want to be in five years. You have to go out of your way to tell people what you want.’” Lam shares this insight with the employees on her teams, encouraging them to let their aspirations be known. “People want to help you, and if they can help you get there, utilizing that support is what you should do.”
Like Boeing, global leaders like Nike, Daimler, and adidas have established partnerships with PSU’s School of Business. If you want to learn more about professional benefits and employer support for pursuing a graduate business degree, connect with us for an admissions advising appointment.