Preparing students for the real world takes real-world pedagogy and opportunities. It follows, then, that recruitment and retention of career-oriented faculty and administration attracts students in the same vein.

There’s little need to look beyond the University of Bridgeport’s Ernest C. Trefz School of Business for a better example of this theory in practice: Dean Lloyd Gibson, faculty member Dr. Carrie A. Picardi, and business student Anthony Lopez ’15 ’17 all signed up to UB because of its career-driven reputation. And all three couldn’t be more pleased with their professional instinct to commit to UB.

Lopez, 37, a recent graduate of the IDEAL program and currently enrolled in the Trefz School’s MBA program, credits professors like Dr. Picardi for turning him into a UB lifelong learner and loyalist.

“After taking Dr. Picardi’s Organizational Behavior course last year, I knew I was going to take any course that she was going to teach,” Lopez explains in response to why he is currently enrolled in her Organizational Development course this Fall. “She doesn’t just care about the subject – which she is deeply knowledgeable about – she cares about us. She wants to see us leave her classroom prepared for the next step in our career.”

Toward that end, Dr. Picardi weaves both experiential learning and social media into her curriculum, understanding that both a CV and a resume can “pop” on LinkedIn when project-based accomplishments are listed. And let’s face it, we’re all looking at LinkedIn these days as we grow our professional network … another motive to compel an entire MBA class to sign up for a profile or refresh an existing one with UB-community collaborations.

It’s just win-win for all.

UB’s MBA and The Klein

The flip “win” side of experiential learning is the vitality such pedagogy brings to the local community. Like many of her colleagues, Professor Picardi looked to the City of Bridgeport for a nonprofit or business in need of student pro bono work. She found all she was looking for and more at The Klein Memorial Auditorium, a local arts venue about to celebrate its 75th Anniversary. As a volunteer usher at the arts center in the Spring of 2015, Picardi became vested in the success of The Klein, and approached Executive Director Laurence Caso with the idea of her MBA class making a real impact on the needs of this treasured Bridgeport institution.

Serendipitously, both Caso and Picardi have been reinvigorating their own careers with their newly-appointed positions – Caso joining The Klein as Executive Director in 2014 and Picardi joining the University of Bridgeport charged with redesigning the Human Resources (HR) MBA concentration in 2013. An Emmy-award winning producer, theater manager, and program development executive, Caso’s storied history includes a star-studded roster, while Picardi has over 17 years experience as an HR practitioner, continuing to enrich her teaching as an active consultant with both regional and global organizations.

From their initial conversation, a springboard of ideas grounded and guided by strategic thinking on both sides have led to an ongoing partnership already benefiting all involved. With The Klein struggling to reinvent itself on the brink of its 75th year of operation, the arts center was in need of expanding its Board of Directors, assessing its economic impact on the City of Bridgeport, and raising much-needed funds.

Enter Dr. Picardi’s students: energetic, eager, curious, and with a vested interest in learning and proving their value in the workforce. From last Fall to this Fall, collaboration with The Klein is woven into the syllabus of MGMT 512-6W1, cumulating in a capstone experience with the class presenting their coursework – an Economic Impact Study report and Board of Directors (BOD) expansion list – in front of the Board of Directors on their final day of class, December 2, 2015. This December, board members will be presented with a robust and strategic fundraising plan.

The University of Bridgeport’s MBA in Human Resources

UB’s MBA class, “Organizational Development,”
kicks off their Fall 2015 semester at The Klein

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Redesigned by Dr. Picardi in 2013, the Human Resources concentration at UB requires three classes: Human Resources Management, Organizational Development, and Workforce Assessment. According to Picardi, any MBA student can take any HR class, including management and marketing majors as well. All will be exposed to the quintessential UB experience: learning from current practitioners rather than more traditional academics.

As a growing field in HR aimed at delivering sustainable and systematic change in organizations through collaboration with leadership, change intervention, and teamwork, Organizational Development is an integral part of every organization. The field focuses on the big picture – how to plan ahead and pull all resources together – compared to workforce assessment, another course offered in UB’s HR concentration, which is more nitty-gritty. According to Picardi, both courses lend themselves easily to experiential learning.

Toward that end, Picardi partners in the Spring with Bridgeport’s The Workplace whose “Think It Forward” mission strengthens the local workforce by putting ideas into motion for the greater good. In 2016, students in her MGMT 515: Workforce Assessment course evaluated the whole process of creating job descriptions at The Workplace – informing both UB students and The Workplace client staff on the merits of drafting relevant wording to hire and place a good fit.

For Ashley Rue ’17, who led the UB BOD student team last Fall and obtained her bachelors at the University of Connecticut, UB’s accelerated MBA program offers students a “great mix of personalities among the professors, who are all hands-on and very friendly,” she says. Plus the program itself is streamlined. “I didn’t want to be in school forever to get my MBA. UConn wanted another four years just to get a master’s. UB has a much better time-span and exactly what I was looking for – a human resources concentration.”

On Becoming Organizational Development Professionals

A self-defined “people person,” Rue notes that presenting in front of The Klein’s Board last Fall challenged her personally and helped her mature professionally.

“Leading and decision-making are two of the most critical competencies of a successful Organizational Development professional, and decision-making had always been one of my weaknesses. Taking on a project of this nature pushed me outside my comfort zone,” says Rue. “Presenting our findings was a bit nerve-wracking because the board was made up of complete strangers, with men and women of all ages and backgrounds. They had real on-the-spot questions we had to do our best to answer. But it was fun and I felt very accomplished when it was done.”

The UB MBA student presentation was enlightening on the other side of the table as well. Tim O’Connor, Vice Chairman of the Board, appreciated the thought process that went into the list of board member recommendations, which included prospective candidates from the economic, healthcare, education, manufacturing, and outreach industries.

“The students helped us realize we need to get away from recruiting board members by who we know. We have to be more targeted and thoughtful about it,” says O’Connor. “It’s tough because Bridgeport is not a wealthy community, but it’s in a wealthy county. We have to educate people dramatically about our need and our value, because there are so many good organizations out there doing the same thing.”

As for the Economic Impact Study, O’Connor divulged that the work of the students is already in operation. “We wholesaled put that presentation into our bond proposal to the State of Connecticut,” he says, pointing out that the proposal to put in an elevator for The Klein’s older audience and address other deficiencies had to be tweaked to make sure talking points hit on the Governor’s new criteria. The Board recently re-filed with the work of UB students wholly integrated.

This year, Picardi’s new Organizational Development class will be focused fully on fundraising, with each student required to write and apply for a grant. The curriculum again lends itself to boundless possibilities for The Klein.

UB’s MBA Class, “Organizational Development,”
kicks off their Fall 2016 Semester at The Klein

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“We’re very excited to see what UB students come up with this semester,” says Caso. “They’re helping us enormously because they’re sharing the workload.”

Standing Out and Stepping Up

As a strong advocate for both herself and her students’ keeping one foot in the workforce while immersed in academia, Picardi recognizes that her graduate students are mostly early on in their careers and need to stand out somehow from the steady stream of job applicants vying for HR positions in the New York Metro and New England regions.

“The more we offer this type of real-world experience, the more excitement we build for UB,” says Picardi. “Both our students and the greater community are starting to hear about our partnership with The Klein. It’s a terrific springboard for other opportunities.”

According to Gibson, it’s been most gratifying to extend experiential learning to UB’s MBA students, and “to have one of our classes do so well from the beginning. It makes us feel like we can roll these out across our other Trefz courses as well.”

He also emphasizes the confidence experiential learning builds for our graduate students. “It’s one thing to take an MBA class and list that on your resume and LinkedIn,” says Gibson. “It’s another to say, ‘Let me tell you about the project I just did, the recommendations our team made to the Board of Trustees at The Klein Memorial Auditorium.’ That’s demonstrating to the employer real value.”