Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, founded in 2001, is one of the newest higher education institutions in the nation. In nearby Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Dickinson College was chartered in 1783, the first college established in the newly formed United States of America.
In fall 2014, the two institutions convened Dickinson College’s Library and Information Services division, in need of a knowledge management strategy, with HU students studying knowledge management, for a hands-on experience in finding real-world solutions.
The project was conducted in Organizational Mind, an HU general education course that teaches leadership, organizational dynamics and knowledge management, and financial literacy. Instructor Jay Liebowitz, inaugural holder of The DiSanto Endowed Visiting Chair in Applied Business and Finance, wanted an experiential project that would expose students to working as consultant teams.
At Dickinson College, working groups in the LIS division were addressing cross-departmental concerns about emerging technologies, and IT and security. The teams needed “a way to capture, store, and retrieve for future use the knowledge they generated,” said Robert Renaud, LIS vice president and chief information officer.
“Since the memberships of the teams will change over time, this was a critical need,” Renaud said.
To help Renaud’s LIS groups find solutions, Liebowitz divided his 32-student class into two teams, each charged with developing a knowledge management strategy.
Renaud briefed students on the working groups, and the students surveyed LIS staff about internal communications needs. The student teams then researched industry best practices and knowledge management applications in libraries.
At the end of the one-month project, each team presented its findings to the Dickinson group, which selected a winning team. The exercise taught students about group dynamics, putting knowledge management theories into practice, and responding to the needs of clients, Liebowitz said. Our students are majoring in STEM areas and “felt very uncomfortable with the project” because they are used to structure and checklists, he said.
“Unfortunately, in the real world, most problems are messy and fuzzy, and you have to learn how to reason through those scenarios and deal with ambiguity and manage uncertainty,” Liebowitz said. “It took them out of their comfort level, which is good, because that’s how you learn.”
HU junior Daniel Chapman, a biotechnology major, led the winning team, which presented two options for approaches and software that would meet the working groups’ needs. As he sets his sights on medical school and a career in neurology, Chapman said the project has already taught him how to apply best practices in his studies and even in his job making deli sandwiches at a convenience store.
“It gave me a chance to see some of the skills that are needed to actually run an organization as far as knowledge management goes,” said Chapman.
Teammate Frank Helm, a senior majoring in computer and information security, led a subgroup focusing on technology. Though the group worked in a “slightly chaotic way,” working issues and solutions into a Google Docs document, the exercise introduced students to “the various factors that would play into whether the client’s employees would adopt and run with the KM strategy and systems,” he said.
“The project reemphasized the importance of robust, clear policies and procedures, which I haven’t really had a chance to look at from outside the realm of information technology,” Helm said.
For Dickinson’s LIS division, the winning presentation “pinpointed key functional requirements for a successful solution and even proposed products that we would want to investigate,” Renaud said. “They clearly addressed the challenge that I had described to them.”
The project embodied HU’s mission to assure that students master core competencies in critical thinking, communications, teamwork and collaboration, information literacy, and other areas, said Liebowitz.
“I’m trying to teach and expose our students to lifelong learning skills, even if they may not realize it yet,” he said. “Hopefully, in three or four years, the light bulb will go off and they’ll have an epiphany. We believe in learning by doing.”