Smeal Alumni Interview: What Dylan DeNicholas Learned About Work and Business from a 13,000 Mile Roa
Dylan DeNicholas (Supply Chain & Information Systems 2016') starts a Supply Chain position at Unilever this month where he hopes to build on my Supply Chain knowledge, learn about sustainable practices in the business world, and pivot this into a career in social impact.
In our far-ranging discussion, Dylan's shares what got him interested in sustainability, his advice to other students, and what he learned from a 13,000 mile solo journey around the country.
Can you tell us about your background?
I grew up in a little town in New Jersey. A defining moment for me was a summer job as a warehouseman in Elizabeth, NJ. The hustle and bustle of moving product in, around, and eventually out of the warehouse in the most efficient way possible intrigued me. A few years later I was receiving an education in Supply Chain at Penn State.
My time at the University was nothing short of a godsend. THON reinforced my belief in the fact we are all dependent on one another for love and life. My fraternity taught me the value of self-control and brotherhood. And Smeal introduced me to sustainability in the business world.
What got you interested in a social impact career?
While at Smeal, I did a co-op at The Hershey Company. After graduation, I continued this work in the food industry by joining a large wholesale grocer through their 18 month rotational Leadership Development Program.
This was a time in my early career life that seemed very dark. It was my first work experience out of school and I worked in an automation/operations initiative in a windowless warehouse. During the week, I did not see the sun or the outdoors. The hours were long and though I was learning a lot, my self-fulfillment meter was running low.
This was a time in my early career life that seemed very dark. It was my first work experience out of school and I worked in an automation/operations initiative in a windowless warehouse. During the week, I did not see the sun or the outdoors.
But I learned something valuable from these (literally) dark days. At this time, my weekends were spent almost entirely in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Being nature deprived during the week and nature enriched during the weekends helped me realize how truly great the natural world is. It also guided me in a new direction.
Instead I realized very strongly that I wanted to be outdoors and I wanted to give the gifts of the outdoors to future generations. I wanted to ensure they have access to the fruits of the great wilderness, which seems to fill my soul in way that nothing else does.
This new insight kind of knocked me for a loop. I was unsure what to do with it. I took the recent summer and spent almost four months driving around the country, by myself, visiting 21 National Parks and 20 cities across 31 states. The memories of the 13,000-mile road trip will last a lifetime but the deeper lessons from the National Parks is what really influenced me. This trip solidified my ambitions to steer my career in the direction of a brighter future in the form of sustainability and environmental preservation.
The memories of the 13,000-mile road trip will last a lifetime but the deeper lessons from the National Parks is what really influenced me. This trip solidified my ambitions to steer my career in the direction of a brighter future in the form of sustainability and environmental preservation.
What is your vision for the kind of work you ultimately want to do?
The work I want to do will revolve around improving the landscape of the business world, through the introduction of more thoughtful business solutions, while empowering people to choose the right product.
Businesses need to provide thoughtful, tailored solutions, with consideration for the planet and their customers in their design. People need to be given the option to choose these products.
I am no fool. I listen when those with insight speak. Scientists have been warning us for decades. We need massive action from everyone, not just businesses. People need to change their way of life. We have been severely depleting our future ecological capital. People have been taught to think in a one-dimensional "cradle to grave" style of consumerism. This shortsighted thinking has plagued the average Western individual since the dawn of the industrial revolution.
This needs to change.
And it can’t happen forcefully. Businesses need to provide thoughtful, tailored solutions, with consideration for the planet and their customers in their design. People need to be given the option to choose these products. And most important of all, people need to be informed and empowered to do so.
What advice would you have for other recent graduates interested in a social impact career?
Start now. Give yourself small, obtainable goals and grow them bigger from there.
There are tons of certifications, courses, and publications on the matter, many of which are free and easily accessible online. Build your knowledge, stay engaged, and eventually opportunities will present themselves. Join a non-profit, club, or advocacy group. These will give you even more knowledge, tools, and opportunities. They will also provide you with frontline experience.
Start now. Give yourself small, obtainable goals and grow them bigger from there. Build your knowledge, stay engaged, and eventually opportunities will present themselves.
Having experience getting your hands dirty or speaking to the public is invaluable and will help you grow as an individual. You will also be surrounding yourself with likeminded people which is always a good way to push yourself towards your goals.
And if you want to have a lasting impact once you establish yourself in the industry, don’t forget to understand the people on the opposite side of the table. You can’t ever change someone’s mind if you never understood theirs in the first place.
What more do you think Smeal can do to support students interested in social impact careers?
I can think of three things I would like to see Smeal (and every business school) doing.
First, I believe the focus should be on getting more students informed. If sustainability is not on the forefront of student’s mind – the individual, the business, investors, consumers, etc. are doomed.
Second, provide students with greater access to companies or organizations that are at the forefront of the sustainability wave. Whether it be case studies or just info-sessions, the knowledge sharing fosters the type of environment business students need so they can see what's possible and what is already happening.
Finally, develop opportunities for students to collaborate with these companies or organizations to establish a certification available to students.
Thanks, Dylan. We are ever inspired by our many Smeal alumni, like you, that are committed to business for a better world.
Know an alum that we should interview? Maybe it's you? Shoot us an email.