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Righteous Felon Jerky does right by the environment

MES in the Community, Bill Cohen

After several years of teaching math in places as far-flung as Thailand and Spain, Bill Cohen returned home to start graduate school. He found Penn's MES program, where he planned to apply his analytical skills to the environmental issues he’d witnessed around the world. He didn't expect that he'd find his first great sustainability challenge in a cooler of beef jerky.

Back home, Bill reconnected with a close group of old friends. As kids in middle school, they had experimented with making beef jerky after one of the crew received a dehydrator for his birthday — and then peddled the results table to table in the cafeteria. Reunited, the friends spent a Saturday trying out new jerky recipes. At the end of the afternoon, their middle school business was reborn.

The challenges presented by the business, and the resources provided at Penn's MES program in terms of classes and faculty mentoring, led Bill to grow in surprising directions. “It’s been absolutely invaluable as a learning experience to be studying at Penn's MES program while starting a business,” Bill says. “I didn’t even know I’d be interested in supply chain management, for example. But my big picture thinking and analytical skills, together with the skills I’m learning in through the program, led me to take on the operations management for Righteous Felon.”

Bill Cohen

Bill has put the lessons he’s learned at Penn directly into practice. “As we were going to small and large farms to find our long-term supply of beef, and sourcing our ink, bags and other ingredients, Penn’s MES program helped me to ask the right questions and make our supply chain as green as possible. I’ve been able to apply the principles of sustainability to help the company run as leanly as possible. The sustainable way is also often the most efficient.”

The experience of beginning a business has led Bill to new insights about his career after the program as well. “Being in Penn’s MES program and working at Righteous Felon opened me up to how any company can benefit from an efficiency overhaul in water resource usage — it’s something that nobody pays attention to. I now feel confident that I can help other operations use water much more efficiently.”

Other useful skills learned in the program include GIS mapping, which Bill has used to model optimal market conditions for beef jerky retail locations, and to figure out what hydrological conditions lead to the best grazing pasture for the kind of beef preferred for the Righteous Felon recipe.

Bill won’t be a Righteous Felon forever. He’ll be back to globetrotting, as he plans to take his MES education a step further with the MES multi-master’s degree in International Environmental Management, a branch of the program that offers the option of completing degrees at both Paris Mines Tech and Tsinghua University in China in addition to the MES degree. When he graduates, he hopes to help companies overhaul their water use efficiency, for the good of the environment — and the bottom line.