This past fall, MA-HRIR students in the "Employee Development: Creating a Competitive Advantage" course participated in a project designed to give back to the community. Students worked with the City of North Saint Paul as part of the Resilient Community Project to address the community's needs. The RCP's mission is to connect communities in Minnesota with the wide-ranging expertise of University of Minnesota faculty and students to address pressing local issues.

During the first half of the semester, students identified options for specific staff training and development initiatives the City could implement to increase staff satisfaction and retention.

Eight of the 30 students in the class led one of several focus groups at City Hall to gather feedback from employees about what was working well and areas that needed improvement. The students then applied these insights to provide recommendations to the city for implementing a performance management system.

"Each night we had class, we learned a little more about the specific topic and then a team of students facilitated a class meeting to present their ideas and brainstorm with the whole class," says MA-HRIR student Jackie Korpela.

The students advised the City on five main issues: onboarding and social engagement, performance management systems, wellness systems and employee development and retention, change management systems, and team building.

Korpela said one of the biggest challenges of the project was the strict seven-week deadline, and the lack of precedent for this type of work.

"The city had never implemented performance management systems before and they did not have an employee engagement survey that may have provided additional information," Korpela says.

Instructor Stacy Doepner-Hove attests the project was a new way for students to gain practical consulting training.

"The project provided students with the chance to take what they were learning in class and through their research, and apply it to a real-life situation," she says.

Korpela also liked being able to use what she learned in the classroom and apply it to a real-world scenario.

"It's not every day that your homework assignment affects a real-world situation," Korpela says. "I thought the project was very interesting, and I think all of the students really took the assignment to heart because we all wanted to develop the best recommendations possible."

Doepner-Hove said that there will be a similar project for students in the future.