In Common Grounds' eleventh year, co-founder Lars Leafblad, ‘06 MBA, attended the kick off meeting to see how the group has evolved. The graduate student group’s purpose is to promote cross-University relationships and collaboration. The meeting room was filled with students from the Carlson School, the Law School, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the Medical School, and the School of Public Health.
When Leafblad launched the group in January 2005, he was a Part-Time MBA student working as the director of development for the Humphrey School. “At Carlson we were learning about making leadership decisions in scenarios and situations at the intersection of business, law, and public policy,” Leafblad says. “Yet there was a chasm, in perceptions and practice, between these programs so a group of us went about trying to change that reality.”
In the first years of Common Grounds, the group focused on hosting networking events. But over the years a new model emerged: Now, its members work as consultants for organizations that spark their interest. These 8-week interdisciplinary team projects address challenges like deigning patient intake systems in the health field and finding the best business model for urban farmers.
“It’s very different now,” says Kristen Mishler, ‘17 J.D., and a member of the steering committee. “But with the same principles of bringing in outside disciplines, networking, and building a broader sphere of knowledge.”
Mishler has been a part of Common Grounds all three years of her law degree, and while this is her second year on the steering committee, the first year she was a project leader. Her project focused on developing a financial plan to open residency opportunities for foreign trained refugee and immigrant physicians who had passed their licensing exams in the United States. Like most project ideas that students bring to Common Grounds, the project naturally grew and enveloped multiple areas of interest. In this case, it overlapped business, health care, human rights, and legal and public policy.
“It’s interesting to see how education from different schools informs approaches,” Mishler says. She remembers sitting down with her team and hearing them bring up ideas from professors and classes that she’d never heard of because they were outside her discipline of study.
While it was the project component that initially drew Mishler to the group, this year she and the other steering committee members are working on balancing project experience and networking to keep the group’s original mission strong. Now each steering committee member is a mentor to at least one project leader to facilitate stronger relationships and support skill development. The group hopes to host another networking event before the project group work begins in earnest.
As the group’s founder, Leafblad has been honored with numerous recognitions including the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” award. Since leaving Common Grounds, he co-founded a successful executive search firm, Ballinger Leafblad, Inc., with fellow Carlson School alum, Dr. Marcia Ballinger. But he still values networking—perhaps even moreso.
“I've learned from hearing thousands of leaders share their own career journey that it's often unexpected connections that create new career and leadership possibilities,” Leafblad says. “We believe building a habit of networking accelerates serendipity and the likelihood that an unexpected opportunity surfaces at just the right moment in career trajectories.”