Barry McNamara  |  Published January 10, 2023

New Faculty Profile: Amanda Cleland

Her road has led from soccer, to Air Force captain, to sourcing manager, to economics professor.

AMANDA CLELAND: First-year economics professor graduated from Air Force Academy and served around... AMANDA CLELAND: First-year economics professor graduated from Air Force Academy and served around the world in the military.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Perhaps it was while spiraling toward earth in a purposely out-of-control glider that Amanda Cleland realized her Plan B of studying economics at the Air Force Academy was going to become her new Plan A.

Over the past two decades, economics has served her well, both in her military and civilian endeavors, and it’s now landed her – safely – at Monmouth College, where she’s in her first year on the faculty.

“I’m still in the thick of it,” said Cleland of acclimating to teaching. “I like the fact that I can give the students real-world advice and help set them up for success. I get to tell them what it’s really like out there.”

‘A little gift from God’

When Cleland left Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Illinois – where she starred on the soccer field – to play for and attend Air Force, her future was up in the air, but not because she was undecided.

“I thought I wanted to be a pilot,” she said.

Cleland’s summers consisted of trios of intensive, three-week blocks, including survival training. Another block featured “being towed up by a Cessna, where you’d glide around the serenely beautiful Colorado sky.”

Only it was a little less serene and beautiful as Cleland found herself continually reaching for a vomit bag.

“I would get very ill,” she said. “My senior year, when we took our physicals, they told me I had bad eyes. They said, ‘No, you can’t be a pilot.’ That was like a little gift from God.”

“Economics just really stuck. I found it interesting. … At the time, I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay in the military, but I thought that whenever I decided to get out, economics would be lucrative in the business world.” Amanda Cleland

What she could be – and what she turned out to be very proficient at – was working as a contracting officer.

“When I started college, I planned to study math or physics,” she said. “But economics just really stuck. I found it interesting. So I declared that major kind of late – the second half of my sophomore year. At the time, I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay in the military, but I thought that whenever I decided to get out, economics would be lucrative in the business world.”

Capt. Cleland reports for duty

But first, Cleland applied the subject to her military service. A captain, Cleland was a contracting officer for the Air Force from 2006-13, stationed in the United States, as well as in Germany, Afghanistan and Iraq. Among her accomplishments, she was the head contract negotiator/manager and principal business adviser for B-2 Satellite upgrade programs worth $354 million. Her team in Afghanistan successfully executed 120 services and commodities contracts worth more than $20 million, and she personally managed 160 ongoing service contracts worth more than $86 million.

And, not unlike her glider experience, she still occasionally found herself in harm’s way.

“We were mortared all the time in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Cleland. “A big alarm would go off, just like you hear in the movies: ‘Beep. Beep. Beep. Seek shelter. Seek shelter.’ It would happen at all hours of the day. In Afghanistan, we were in what they call ‘B huts,’ and the B hut two down from where I worked was mortared.”

Cleland put that date in the 2010-11 range, which coincided with the successful Navy SEALs raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Ten years earlier, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 had inspired her decision to enter the military.

“It was kind of just another day,” she said of May 2, 2011. “We knew that the Taliban would still go on working without him.”

Following her military service, Cleland worked as a strategic sourcing manager for Amazon’s North American Fulfillment Centers from 2013-15 and, the following year, earned a master’s degree in acquisition and contract management from American University. She also holds an MBA in leadership from the University of Iowa.

Cleland has also served as a global procurement manager for eBay and, for the five years before teaching at Monmouth, as a strategic sourcing manager for Jones Lang LaSalle. In that role, she led all sourcing and supply chain efforts for first-generation integrated facility management models. Her clients included Deere and Co. and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

How did she get here?

Which begs the question: How did Cleland make her way to Monmouth, and how did she get into teaching?

The answers, in both cases, revolve around family.

While serving in the Air Force, she met and fell in love with United High School and West Point graduate Eric Hanson, who as a civilian is a farmer near Monmouth. That brought her back to Illinois, and then two others influenced her career choice: her mother, who taught at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois, and Monmouth professor Mike Connell, who kept trying to convince her to teach.

“In my previous work, I was in purchasing, the front end of the supply chain. … COVID put the flashlight on the potential issues of our supply chain if one little thing goes wrong. If, say, the one place that makes semiconductors shuts down, you see the ripple effect. … I can tell my students, ‘This is what happened.’” Amanda Cleland

“My mom is a big advocate of lifelong learning, and she told me I’d enjoy interacting with students,” said Cleland, who is not related to Eva or John Cleland, the namesakes of one of Monmouth’s residence halls.

Cleland teaches courses in human resources, marketing and supply chain management.

“In my previous work, I was in purchasing, the front end of the supply chain, which also includes an operational aspect and logistics,” she said. “COVID put the flashlight on the potential issues of our supply chain if one little thing goes wrong. If, say, the one place that makes semiconductors shuts down, you see the ripple effect. … I can tell my students, ‘This is what happened.’ When COVID began, we were on the phone with every paper supplier in the U.S. that March, April and May, trying to get PPEs (personal protective equipment).”

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