This is SDI: Fulfillment & Shipping Department with Jeff Duchnowski & Joseph O’Connor

  • Drew Poplin

Working for an organization such as Sonoran Desert Institute is much like being on a professional football team. While the size of the teams differs greatly from one another, the principle remains similar. Think of each department within the organization as a different position group, and they each have different roles and responsibilities from the other. However, they are all united by similar values and goals and must each be operating at a high level for the whole team to run smoothly.

Jeff Duchnowski, SDI’s Director of Fulfillment, has cultivated an incredible amount of experience that makes him especially suited for his position. With plenty of time spent working in both shipping and education, working in SDI’s Department of Fulfillment was a natural fit. As Jeff recounted, “I had about 15 years of fulfillment and shipping and warehousing experience previously, and I had 14 years of postsecondary education administration. So I just blended those two together when they (SDI) needed a manager out there. That’s how I ended up here.“

A Background in Education

Working in education has always been something that Jeff has gravitated towards. In fact, with his degrees in both multimedia web design and history (with a focus on Late Antiquity), he originally planned to go into teaching. Ultimately deciding that wasn’t the path for him, he still sought to work in the education field. In his words, “That was how I ended up in education. I was going to go into teaching, then said, ‘I don’t wanna do that, but let me see if I can go to work for a school because I value education.’”

Despite so much time working for various educational institutions, according to Jeff, the way SDI treats its employees sets it apart from other schools.

“This company takes care of its employees. We’re owner-operated, so it’s good. Most previous companies I worked for didn’t value the employees as much.”

It is this care of both students and employees that has helped SDI grow bigger and bigger in the last few years. With this growth in student population and school programming, it became necessary for the school to expand its shipping and fulfillment department.

From Alum to Fulfillment Manager

To handle all the work that goes on in the fulfillment center, you need a team of highly skilled people. Luckily for Jeff, his team, though small, is rock solid. Consisting of Jeff as the Director of Fulfillment, you also have Tadeo Garza as FFL Coordinator, Tyrese Jones and Faitotoa ‘Lepa’ Taualo as Fulfillment Specialists, and then Fulfillment Manager Joseph O’Connor.

Joseph, a graduate of SDI’s ASFT program, started working with his alma mater three years ago. As Fulfillment Manager, he explains, “ I run reports and get kind of an estimate of what needs to ship out for the prior months, or I run out a month prior so I can get everything all built for the next ship day.”

Joseph continues, “So I run those reports, and then I let Jeff know if any quantities need to be ordered based on his reports that he’s run or what we run into if there are any issues. And then I have my team behind me. They start building what materials need to be built for the shipping release. I answer all phone calls and emails that are directed to shipping unless they’re directed specifically to Jeff. And then, of course, all the swag requests, instructor requests, that fun stuff in receiving. For everything that comes in, of course, we have to validate and ensure that the quantities match before receiving them.”


One of the firearms Joseph worked on while studying at SDI.


And while this already seems like a lot, as Jeff adds, “He [Joseph] is being a little coy. He does a lot more than that, too. We have events all year long between the marketing team, military veteran services, and the drone side where he’s constantly getting shipments ready to go out or come in from events, which includes swag and/or event materials, tents and popups, and things like that. So it’s a lot of work. He does a lot of different things. So, you know, we’re really happy to have him and for him to be able to do as much as he does.”

Interestingly enough, O’Connor is still able to incorporate the knowledge he received from SDI as a student to assist the school as an employee. According to Duchnowski, “He’s more knowledgeable at Gunsmithing. I can do some simple stuff, but he can do a lot more than I can, that’s for sure. So I’m very happy to have him, as well as Tadeo. Because of Tadeo on the FFL side, he was in the National Guard Reserves. For six years, he oversaw their ammunition warehouse. So basically, he was keeping track of all their ammo, so he’s doing something similar with the firearms side now. Having that kind of knowledge in the fulfillment center is helpful when drilling down on student issues with materials.”

Epitomizing Teamwork

In any organization, it is vital that everyone works well together. This remains true at SDI and, in this case, with the Shipping and Fulfillment team. In Duchnowski’s words, “It’s ultimately like your football team. The quarterback and the wide receiver all have to work together to make the team successful. Well, for Fulfillment to be successful, I can’t do it all. Joseph can’t do it all. Tadeo can’t do it all. None of us can do it all. We all have to work as a team and, you know, put our heads together, and that’s sort of what we did.”

This attitude not only helped them adapt but also assisted SDI in growing further. And while the job isn’t often easy, the feedback they’ve received from students has made it rewarding for both of them. Jeff explains, “It’s really nice to know that we might not hear it during their studies, but in the end, they felt that they got what they were paying for. That we gave them the time of day and the respect they felt they deserved and do deserve. And you know, that’s a good feeling. And it’s always been that way in education.”

Today, while the team continues working quietly and effectively behind the scenes at SDI, I think of the football analogy that has been alluded to many times through this blog article. In my humble opinion, the Fulfillment Department is the equivalent of a football team’s offensive line— a position group that often never gets the fanfare it deserves but is absolutely crucial to a successful team. So hail to SDI’s offensive line, the Fulfillment Department! May you keep grinding and keep doing all you do!

Join The SDI Team



Sonoran Desert Institute was recently recognized as a “Great Place To Work.” In fact, this year, 85% of our employees said it was a great place to work, which is 28% higher than the national average.

If you want to find out more about how you can join the SDI team, you can learn more by clicking on the link here.

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