Dressed in business-professional attire, Fox School of Business students exited Alter Hall’s elevators and streamed into the seventh-floor MBA Commons. With their shoulders straight, the students found their places beside two rows of corkboards, as industry leaders walked aisle to aisle and quizzed them on their respective research findings.
These activities marked the culmination of The Co-Op in HRM.
In the course, an elective offered by the Fox School’s Department of Human Resource Management (HRM), students swap classroom learning for professional experience. Dr. Crystal Harold, Associate Professor of HRM, assigns students a co-op with one of the program’s industry partners, where they report to work 10 hours weekly. The students, who numbered 22 in the Fall 2014 semester, are tasked with tackling a pressing issue in the human resources industry, and producing an evidence-based management paper that presents their research toward pinpointing a solution.
Students communicated their research findings and the best solution to addressing the HR issue they had selected during The Co-Op in HRM’s final presentations, held Dec. 5 at Alter Hall. Professional mentors representing the companies and non-profit organizations to which students were assigned were in attendance, as were industry leaders considering future partnerships with the program. Professionals from both camps submitted index-card notes to the students for on-the-spot input on their respective presentations.
“Internships and co-op assignments like the ones offered by this course, are salient learning opportunities that help make Fox School’s students more competitive when they enter the job market,” Harold said. “Some of the students who have taken this course in years past are offered employment opportunities with their co-op organization. Others use their co-ops as an opportunity to segue into their next position.”
And for some students, like Jeannine Rudolph, FOX ’12, companies create positions in order to retain them. During her co-op with Cigna, Rudolph, who majored in both HRM and Legal Studies in Business, worked in various areas within human resources and, before the semester had come to a close, her mentor and direct supervisor asked if she’d stay on as an intern in the spring semester. Both opportunities eventually amounted to a full-time position with Cigna, where Rudolph is an HR Consultant.
“As a student, I really engaged myself so an opportunity like mine would be a possibility,” she said.
HRM major Erica Smith, one of Harold’s 22 students, spent the semester with the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN), an intermediary organization dedicated to connecting systems and leveraging resources to equip young people for academic achievement, economic opportunity and personal success. Slated to graduate in May 2015, Smith investigated whether merit-based pay would be a viable option for non-profits like PYN.
“She was exposed to every facet of HR, and that task variety is what’s exciting to me,” said Priscilla Tennant, an HR generalist with PYN, who served as Smith’s mentor. “Certainly, compensation was an area of focus and it was important for her to research the benefits and drawbacks of across-the-board pay vs. merit pay and what culture shift is required to make that change. She served as a true thought partner in considering all elements involved in a major change that will impact employee compensation.”
Working with Tennant, who completed her undergraduate coursework at the Fox School in 1997 and later attained her MBA from Fox in 2000, was a boon for Smith, who pointed to professional development as another incentive of the co-op.
“Waking up, getting dressed and preparing yourself for a professional work setting that’s not a classroom was critical,” Smith said. “It was a matter of ‘How can my career benefit from today’s opportunity?’ instead of ‘How can I benefit from this class discussion?’”