Bringing student expertise into the community

Dal's Management Without Borders students

- January 29, 2014

Students show off their work with Halifax's Ecology Action Centre. (Colin Craig photo)
Students show off their work with Halifax's Ecology Action Centre. (Colin Craig photo)

Each fall, 150 graduate students register for MGMT 5000: Management Without Borders (MWB), a required course for master's students in the Faculty of Management.

MWB is not your typical course: it’s an opportunity for graduate students to build and hone their professional and academic skills in a practical environment, working on real-world problems for partner organizations (or clients).

At the start of the semester, students from different disciplines are placed together in groups. Throughout the term, they consider a problem their partner organization is facing. The course culminates in a poster night where students present their findings and recommendations to their organizations, instructors and the public.

Halifax’s Ecology Action Centre utilised the skill set of MWB students this year to develop a data management plan to help organize and effectively manage the tremendous amount of data needed to support a live website connecting users to community-based transportation throughout the Maritimes.  

According to Kallen Rutledge, a Library and Information Studies student who worked on the project, “our team developed 12 recommendations to support the effective management of Go Maritimes [the project’s name] data now and in the future, recommendations that the Centre can adopt if the opportunity and funding become available.”

Preparing students for their careers

Partner organizations and their projects are hand-selected by MWB instructors each spring for the following fall semester. Organizations submit project description templates that MWB instructors review and then work with potential project partners to vet and clarify project parameters. By the time students arrive in the fall to begin their work, the project descriptions have become quite comprehensive.

“We look for projects that require the integration and application of numerous skill sets and knowledge bases,” says MWB Coordinator Jenny Baechler. “The students are brought together each year for a number of reasons but, first and foremost, we believe that MWB provides students with an opportunity to work with people who possess a tremendously wide variety of skills and who see the world differently.”   

The purpose of the course is to get students acquainted with post-graduate work environments. “In this sense MWB does a tremendous job of preparing students for the challenges and rewards of complex team dynamics,” says Prof. Baechler.

“MWB was the perfect place to practice the skills that will allow me to succeed in the future,” says Public Administration student Danika Kowpak. “It improved my understanding of teamwork, as interdisciplinary teams are quite different than single discipline teams. MWB also allowed me to appreciate the significance of clear communication with teammates, as students from different programs may have been taught to complete the same tasks in different ways. I also learned more about myself, and how I respond to unforeseen situations.”

Cross-country clients

Partner organizations come from public, private and not-for-profit sectors. While they have traditionally been based in Nova Scotia, the MWB program is now starting to work with organizations from Ottawa, Montreal and as far away as Vancouver.  

PeaceGeeks, an international non-governmental organization based in Vancouver that provides technological services and abilities to organizations in developing countries, tasked MWB students with producing a short-term fundraising strategy: a grant analysis as well as corporate sponsorship opportunities, allowing students to utilize their professional skills.

“In order to produce the final project, our group conducted informal interviews with corporations, researched grant and funding opportunities, looked at fundraising best-practices and analyzed fundraising methods used by similar organizations,” says Public Administration student Sarah Ness, who worked on the project.

Partner organizations have been consistently pleased with the work Dalhousie’s MWB students have provided for them. “MWB groups spend three months working on timely, relevant issues facing these organizations. Often these are issues that the organization simply can’t get to due to resource constraints or a lack of expertise,” says Prof. Baechler.

“The quality of effort and analysis put forward by our students is exceptional and this plays out in the feedback from partner organizations.”


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