Management students help young shelter residents thrive

Posted on January 15th, 2015 by

Onnie explaining some of PAH’s mission and vision. Photo courtesy Eliza C. Lynard.

Another great semester thanks to open-minded Organizational Behavior students and my community partner for the fall, Partners for Affordable Housing in Mankato!

Working with PAH Coordinator Onnie Brodkorb and her organization has helped enact one of my key community-based learning goals: move beyond the limitations of semester-long projects to get real change initiatives going and create real, tangible value for students and community organizations. My students continued the pilot child literacy project that Kristian Braekkan’s students began—moving it officially out of “pilot” status! PAH has wanted to create an after-school literacy and learning program for its shelter for a long time, and Onnie’s vision for that program came to life with Kristian’s and then my student groups.


Helping a shelter resident learn to love reading

Helping a shelter resident learn to love reading. Photo courtesy Eliza C. Lynard

Students initially followed Onnie’s lead in the project by simply implementing the reading and after-school activities she had already created. As the semester moved along, however, students bonded with the kids at the shelter and started making their own activity plans. For Management students, it’s a really different experience in ownership when someone implements someone else’s plan rather than when someone creates their own plan and then helps it get implemented.

They also got to experience what I call ‘the gap’: when they needed to do work they did not expect to have to do.. especially work that had nothing to do with the after-school program itself.. but work that is critical for the organization’s success. I think we too often teach business skills as quite linear, where actions and outcomes are directly related and predictable. The real world is not at all like that, and while it was super unpleasant to have to pick up garbage that had blown into a shelter neighbor’s yard, that work ensures PAH’s continued welcome in the neighborhood and promotes PAH’s mission that all residents be valued members of the neighborhood for as long as they stay.

Understanding how all the work they did fits with the larger picture is such an important learning outcome as they prepare to be managers in any variety of organizations—people want to know that what they do matters. When it’s not obvious, we have to tell them how what they are doing fits. Onnie did such a great job helping make those connections with enthusiasm and appreciation.

I also had a lot of support from Jeffrey Rathlef’s community and service learning office in the CSL. Martha Eichlersmith ’15 served this year as the CBL Assessment intern and was invaluable in creating SurveyMonkey tools for measuring learning outcomes. Eliza Lynard came along one trip to PAH and took all the cool pictures you see here, for which I am very grateful as my skill with an iPhone camera is pretty much non-existent.

Scot Zellmer, the CBL intern from Minnesota State who is pursuing his educational master’s degree, also helped students make connections that they can talk about with potential employers. Scot created a CBL student toolkit in which coaching students about how to include their service-learning project on their resume and talk about it in interviews is laid out in pretty simple terms:

Identify for whom they worked

Describe what they did

State the Impact of their work even when it seems obvious to them

Inform others about how their community-engaged work relates to the position they are seeking

Scot & Onnie share resources and insights in class


The work students performed is transferable in important ways: positive attitude, respectful interactions, being open to experience and change, and creative thinking. I feel so fortunate to work with Gusties and within an institutional framework that supports core values coming alive.

One of the properties that PAH operates. Photo courtesy Eliza C. Lynard

One of the properties that PAH operates. Photo courtesy Eliza C. Lynard


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