Class project turns into consulting gig for doctoral students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It started as a typical graduate course. Reading research articles and textbooks. Learning about different theoretical perspectives. Completing a semester-long project. But three months after the semester ended, the project is still ongoing and giving three Penn State students valuable experience.

Ron Banerjee, Jamie Campbell and Willie Vigil Jr. are all working professionals enrolled in the College of Education's Workforce Education and Development doctoral program. When they signed up for WFED 886: Laboratory in Organization Change and Development, they knew they would gain practical field experience. But they didn't how much.

The trio, along with their instructor Hyung Joon Yoon, have been working since January with the National Career Development Association (NCDA) to identify and establish its core values. Although NCDA boasts a 105-year-old tenure, it never had expressed values to represent the organization.

"Shared values are the core of the organizational culture," said Yoon, an assistant professor of education (workforce education and development). "In order to shape a unifying organizational culture, we need to articulate shared values and promote those, and make sure that all members follow those values."

A board member of NCDA, Yoon serves as trustee-at-large and is responsible for carrying out special projects. When he noticed the absence of articulated core values, he approached the board about the issue and they approved a consultation project. Yoon then brought the project to WFED 886, where Banerjee, Campbell and Vigil took the reins. They interviewed and surveyed more than 300 NCDA members and are now busy analyzing results.

Eight preliminary shared values have been identified. Six values — community, professionalism, diversity and inclusion, integrity, knowledge and inspiration — were derived from NCDA members' positive experiences and were values leaders of the organization believed they already had.

"Through surveys and interviews, we found that NCDA actually does have core values, but they're embedded, not expressed," Campbell said, adding that the absence of expressed values is problematic for any organization.

According to Yoon, "If an organization has high performers but their values are not aligned with the corporate values, then an individual can ruin the organizational culture once they are promoted because leaders are symbols of the organization and its values. So, it is highly important to first articulate values so we can identify those who are not aligned with those values."

Two additional values — innovation and accountability — were categorized as "wish list" items because these were areas in which members responded they would like to see NCDA better emphasize.

The project follows a 4D model of appreciative inquiry, Yoon said. The group has completed the first phase — discovery — and will move onto the second phase, upon a board approval.

"During the dream phase, we will share our results with NCDA members so that they can collectively envision their future," Yoon said. "We take a participatory approach so we are not giving them a bright future on their behalf. We are facilitating them to build their own future based on these core values."

The team will then move onto the design phase and help develop goals and strategies for NCDA. The final phase is the destiny phase, where the organization will implement the strategies and goals to make the shared values an engrained part of their culture.

"Our goal is to make a lasting impact for the next 100 years for NCDA," Yoon said.

"This is a real organization with real needs so the job didn't end just because the semester ended," Banerjee said. "From the academic side, we got a class and an internship out of this one project. On the practical side, we've had an opportunity to use our class for a real-world, real-time experience. It is beyond any type of simulation. This was the real deal."

They also are learning a lot about how to work with a client.

"When we started, the idea was that we'd be done in April and we still have work to do," Campbell said. "But that's not a negative thing. I think it is more of a positive because it means we're doing something right because NCDA keeps coming back with more questions and requests."

In addition to the practical experience, the student researchers also will achieve three scholarly and practitioner-oriented publications and two conference presentations. The project also is a great example of blending research and practice, a key component of the WFED curriculum, according to Yoon.

"An aspect of the workforce education and development program, especially the human resource development and organization development emphasis, is to help our students become organization development consultants," he said. "This project allowed the students to act as consultants and gain that experience that they wouldn't have gained in a typical classroom setting."

Media Contacts: 

Jessica Buterbaugh

Work Phone: 
814-865-1005

marketing communications specialist,
College of Education

HyungJoon Yoon

Work Phone: 
814-865-1876

Assistant Professor of Education (workforce education and development)

Last Updated August 16, 2018