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Project management classes do double-duty

Students tie their projects into serving nonprofit agencies

09/04/03

Xavier University’s project management courses are making great strides thanks to collaboration between management and entrepreneurship professor Tim Kloppenborg and the Project Management Institute (PMI).

What was once an elective offered once or twice a year is now a requirement for undergraduate management majors that will be offered five times during the 2003-2004 school year. Kloppenborg’s efforts have transformed the class into a hands-on learning experience, and PMI’s involvement has helped the class evolve into a contest with a chance for the leading student group to win $1,000.

Kloppenborg’s new approach to the class, which he began implementing about three years ago, allows students to sharpen their project management skills by planning real projects for nonprofit organizations. “By having the students do the work for them, they can get the benefit of some work that ordinarily they’d have to pay a consultant to do,” Kloppenborg says. “Unlike some other service projects, these tend to be big complicated projects where the agency doesn’t really have the capacity to handle the planning themselves.”

Working in groups of three to five, students outline plans for projects such as coordinating moves and/or mergers, integrating new information systems, developing the roles of newly created agencies, and organizing fundraising projects. Participating agencies have included United Way, other nonprofits and even a correctional facility. By the end of each semester, the detailed plans are presented in class, where the agency executives are invited to attend and offer feedback. Whether or not each agency implements its customized plan is at its discretion, but students are encouraged to take the next step and volunteer their assistance getting their plans officially approved and implemented after their class is completed.

PMI’s involvement came about two years ago when Kloppenborg, an active member of PMI for more than 15 years, approached the organization about endorsing his efforts at Xavier by sponsoring a competition. This fall will begin the third year of The Convergys/PMI Project Scholars Competition, which offers $1,000 to be divided among the year’s leading undergraduate team and another $1,000 to the top graduate team. Kloppenborg says since PMI’s mission is to spread the development of project management, its participation is valuable at this level. Xavier is the first university to have a PMI-sponsored reward tied into its project management classes, but others are pursuing similar arrangements.

“This is a work in progress. When we first started, I think that the students benefited quite a bit, but I’m not sure the agencies did,” Kloppenborg says. “Since then, they have gotten feedback [from the agencies] every semester. I think by now we are turning out some better projects for these agencies … hopefully next year they’ll be better still.”