by Alexandra DeMarco
Though she’s now a Vol for Life, Lynn Kiragu has lived around the world, on five different continents. She’s been an engineer, a business sales representative and a student. In one month, she’ll be a Tennessee alumna, with a passion for supply chain and working with others.
Kiragu grew up in Kenya before moving to Kuching, Malaysia, to study chemical engineering at the Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. After graduating with her undergraduate degree, she moved back to Kenya and began working in sales positions that engaged both her academic knowledge and her love for working with others.
“I had a passion for not just dealing with machines and computers all day — I just wanted to also deal with people,” Kiragu said.
Her experience in the sales industry led her to an interest in supply chain, and as she began researching supply chain programs online in hopes of heading back to school, she came across the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business — and specifically Haslam’s Master of Science in Supply Chain Management Tri-Continent program.
“Tri-Con” for short, the Tri-Continent program offers graduate students an experience quite unlike any other; over two years, students study in Germany, China and the United States through three internationally ranked supply chain programs.
“If you could put my dream program together, this was exactly it,” Kiragu said. “After that, I decided I was going to join Haslam, and it’s been amazing.”
Kiragu joined the program in fall 2021 and moved to Hamburg, Germany, to study at Kühne Logistics University, where she lived with three roommates from three different countries: France, Spain and Turkey.
“We would all mix and mash our language together to make sense,” Kiragu said. “You would listen to us and think we’re crazy. Dinner was so, so, so insane, but it just enlightened you to some cultural practices that people do.”
Though students in the Tri-Con program typically move from Germany to China after one semester, Kiragu’s cohort stayed in Germany for an extra semester because of COVID-19 restrictions in China. The students studied online with professors from Tongji University’s School of Economics and Management in Shanghai, learning about international business with a focus on China.
“To see technology implementation in different ways and in different continents, too, that just makes your mind explode,” Kiragu said.
In fall 2021, after a year in the Tri-Con program, Kiragu moved to Knoxville to take classes with professors at Haslam. Tri-Con at UT is a fast-paced program, designed in segments of two-week units each covering a different topic, which Kiragu says is helpful in challenging students to expand their knowledge.
“You would be building onto some things that you thought were your strengths and also working on your weaknesses at the same time, which is so hard to do,” Kiragu said.
For the spring 2022 semester, her last in the Tri-Con program, Kiragu was placed with Eastman Chemical Company for a virtual supply chain internship on network optimization. The job has gone extremely well; after just about a month at the internship, Kiragu accepted a full-time position with Eastman, which she’ll start after graduation in May.
“It’s been too good to be true, and I keep on telling them that. … But maybe it’s because they got me in exactly the role that basically allowed me to shine and also learn at the same time,” Kiragu said.
With her background in chemical engineering and experience living across the globe, Kiragu was the perfect fit for Eastman Chemical, an international chemical industry company with facilities on six continents.
“The team that I’m working with is very diverse,” Kiragu said. “It’s one of the few companies that I’ve been able to engage with and that they say they’re global, and they act global. … I’m actually dealing with people in Europe and in Asia as we speak, and so it’s a daily thing and that’s what I love.”
Jon Holztrager, director of Supply Chain Partnerships in the Haslam College of Business, connected Kiragu with Eastman Chemical for her final semester in the Tri-Con program.
Holztrager oversees Tri-Con students working in internships during their last semester in the program, and when Kiragu was offered a full time position with Eastman so quickly after beginning her internship, he was quite impressed.
“The thing that I think really stands out about Lynn is she just has a joyous personality,” Holztrager said. “She loves getting up every morning, she’s excited about life, she loves working for Eastman.”
It’s Kiragu’s hard work and passion for what she does that truly embodies what it means to be a Volunteer.
“When I think about volunteers, whether they’re Tennessee Volunteers or just a garden variety volunteer, I think about people who are excited about what they’re doing, who are doing it out of a passion for their work and not for compensation, obviously, and Lynn strikes me as that sort of a person who throws herself into her work with exuberance and is happy to be there and happy to be part of the team,” Holztrager said.
For Kiragu, the professors in the Haslam College of Business have been essential to her successful run at UT. They’re not only leading interesting courses, Kiragu says, but also quite approachable and friendly whenever she has a question.
“It’s been fulfilling,” Kiragu said. “It was like the best ending for the two years for me because the professors here, I just give them the utmost respect. … They’re so educated and very, very approachable, too.”
In addition to instructor support, Kiragu also credits staff from departments across campus with supporting her throughout her time as a Vol. She took advantage of the plentiful resources at Hodges Library and the Center for Global Engagement, including CGE’s International Student and Scholar Services. International Student Advisor Yevie Teyfukova was particularly helpful in leading Kiragu through the process of navigating life as an international student, she says.
Through UT’s Center for Career Development, Kiragu had the opportunity to attend career fairs on campus where she met with more than 20 employers.
“That was an opportunity that I know I wouldn’t have gotten if I was elsewhere,” Kiragu said.
Knoxville’s international community on and off-campus has also played a key role in Kiragu’s experience at UT.
“I love the international community here, just cause it’s so engrained together and also still distinct,” Kiragu said. “So it’s good to see how different people actually act … just in the same place.”
The thread that runs through all of Kiragu’s impressions of UT boils down to one key factor: the Volunteers themselves.
“UT wouldn’t be UT if it wasn’t for the people that it has, all the way from the dean, all the way down to everyone,” Kiragu said. “I think that approachability that they have, the coolness that they have. … That’s something that I’ll always be thankful to them for.”
It’s through her time spent with the people at UT that Kiragu has seen the Volunteer spirit embodied, from staff across campus to new friends who offered her rides when she first moved to Knoxville and didn’t have an American driver’s license.
“That is something that I think it is beyond amazing that UT has, and I’m beyond thankful for it. … I don’t think I’d fit anywhere else other than UT,” Kiragu said.
Thanks to her time and work in the Tri-Con program, Kiragu will soon be graduating from UT with a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management and heading to Kingsport to start her full-time, in-person position with Eastman Chemical.
And Kiragu’s advice to any other students thinking about embarking on the adventure of the Tri-Con program? Just go for it.
“Do it. … You will never regret the chance that you took joining the program,” Kiragu said. “You will see yourself in such a different light, and that’s always a good thing.”
Jason Moody (865-974-5752, email@example.com)