Fostering Student Engagement via Professional Associations

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session will detail the partnership that Western Governors University has developed with the Society for Human Resource Management, to increase student engagement in a virtual learning environment, provide student leadership opportunities, create industry relevant lifelong learning support, and bridge the gap between programs in the College of Business. 


Ashley Dugger: Ashley Dugger started her career in higher education over 13 years ago in admissions/enrollment management. She has focused her professional career in operational leadership and human resources management, and holds a Doctorate of Business Administration, as well as her SHRM-CP certification. She joined WGU as the Program Chair for the HR Management degree in February of 2019. Co-presenter, Ann Leary: Ann Leary, Program Chair for Management at Western Governors University, has worked to foster positive experiences in higher education for over fifteen years. Facilitating focus groups and coordinating group think in each role, she has aided in expanding relevance around important initiatives and projects in both academics and operations. Through her excitement for management and leadership topics , Ann is diligent in her commitment to changing and establishing new ideals for higher education through experience and example.

Extended Abstract

This session will detail the partnership that Western Governors University has developed with the Society for Human Resource Management, to increase student engagement in a virtual learning environment, provide student leadership opportunities, create industry relevant lifelong learning support, and bridge the gap between programs in the College of Business. We plan to use a combination of presentation and conversation, as well as gamification of the content to increase engagement and interaction during the session.

In 2019, WGU partnered closely with SHRM on a number of various initiatives to drive stronger industry relevance to our Bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management. We realized how incredibly important it is to our students, particularly in an online environment, that they feel strong ties to the professional communities in the fields they are interested in working in, as well as a sense of support and engagement – with other students, with faculty, and with those individuals with whom they can network with in their respective professional fields. This is particularly challenging for those operating in an online environment, but throughout this inaugural year we have learned many valuable lessons that others in virtual based learning programs may offer to their students. It can be challenging to bridge the gap for virtual learners so that they feel connected to their learning community, and our efforts with SHRM have helped pave the way for this type of connection.

First, we ensured our HR degree curriculum was aligned with SHRM’s “Body of Competency and Knowledge” to maintain current industry relevance and grant our students the ability to sit for their SHRM-CP exam, if they choose to do so, earlier than they typically would be eligible to do so. Next, we founded a WGU SHRM Virtual Student Chapter – one of only a handful of approved SHRM virtual chapters in the country. By participating in the chapter, students gain access to numerous SHRM resources, and they also get the chance to hear via webinar from guest speakers who are subject matter experts and thought leaders in their respective fields, such as HR and Management. Student members are elected into executive leadership roles for the chapter, allowing them to gain critical leadership skills and build their resumes while finishing their degree programs. They are also invited to participate in a virtual book club discussion in 2020. We are organizing a virtual community service event for chapter members in 2020 as well; this event will see our senior leaders, amongst other WGU employees, hosting volunteer projects for student chapter members in their respective locations. In Salt Lake City, where WGU is based, we have partnered with the Jr. League to host a series of professional topics for their “Women Helping Women” program, which aims to assist women in gaining employment. This type of program allows our student members, and employees, to give back to their communities while also helping those seeking employment feel better equipped to join the workforce.

We initially started our SHRM student chapter just for HR students, but quickly realized there was a broader interest from other students in our College of Business who feel they would like or need to learn about HR topics to be successful in their chosen professions. We opened our chapter to all active College of Business students in the fall of 2020, allowing students to learn from those in other professional fields, various Business programs and backgrounds, and network with a broader range of guest speakers and fellow classmates. This type of chapter is virtually based but brings students together in a collaborative manner as they interact in webinars and on our group Linked In page. We have also been speaking with SHRM about a potential HR apprenticeship program in 2020 or 2021.

In early 2020, our current Undergraduate program structure will be revamped with a brand new Business Core, as well as micro-credential options, under one BS Business Administration degree, with major options, in addition to the two micro-credentials per program. This will grant our students the opportunity to achieve multiple credentials to drive success in the workforce, and also encourage lifelong learning. In addition, the micro-credential options allow students to learn new skillsets that are marketable to employers and critical to their success as professionals. For example, our Management students often tell us they find themselves needing a deeper understanding of HR topics such as employment law, recruiting practices, or performance management. With the new structure, Management students will now take a set of HR specific courses to earn a micro-credential in HR as part of their Undergraduate degree. Our Management degree is the largest program in our College of Business, and this type of structure allows us to reach those students and meet their needs for more cross functional learning.

In today’s professional landscape, we are often asked to wear many different hats in our roles. By offering micro-credentials as part of the degree and a chance to join our SHRM student chapter, we are granting our students the opportunity to gain more cross functionality between previously siloed disciplines of study, develop untapped skill sets, and gear up for lifelong learning to stay competitive in their chosen fields. We are also strengthening our relationship with what is considered to be the leading global HR professional association via our ties to SHRM. We hosted a large contingent of WGU employees at the SHRM 2019 conference, sponsoring a keynote speaker, hosting a networking party for students and alumni, sponsored conference attendance for some of our chapter members, and live streaming webcasts on current HR topics with a number of various internal and external SMEs. By driving this relationship with SHRM, we are demonstrating to our students and the broader educational community how important we feel it is to expand their skill sets and stay active with associations that can assist with lifelong learning, while at the same time increasing their chances to be as competitive as possible in the workforce.

I will be presenting this alongside my colleague, Ann Leary, who is the Program Chair for the Management program at WGU. I am the HR Program Chair.