For months, students in the FIU College of Business’ online Master of Science in Human Resource Management (MSHRM) have shared class time and worked together from behind a computer screen or via a telephone conference call. Few knew what their classmates looked like.
On February 21st they met face-to-face for the first time during a residency visit to FIU. Some of the program’s 31 students came from Orlando, Nicaragua, Michigan, North Carolina and California. Others are locals, residing in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Nathalee Jennings, who lives in California, described the opportunity to gather with her professors and fellow students as a “brilliant idea” that makes it easier to overcome some of the challenges of an online program.
“It’s very difficult to connect because of the time zones and it’s tough to get everyone in on the same communication vehicle,” she noted.
During their three-day visit, the students participated in a team building exercise and held a mock trial where they acted as lawyers, witnesses, prosecutors, and defendants in a makeshift sexual harassment case, Alice Rowe vs. Pacific Quad. The jury included MSHRM graduates and undergraduate students from the HR/Management program.
Robert Soloff, professor of employment law at the College of Business, led the animated prep session for the mock trial. Using humor and over-the-top characterizations, he coached students on how their character should behave in a deposition and how to present questions during an actual trial as he reminded them of key legal concepts.
The experience offers complementary advantages.
“Gathering face-to-face makes it easier to collaborate and makes the communication more productive,” said Francisco Espinoza, who takes the course in Nicaragua where he is based for work. “You can see people’s gestures, facial expressions and attitude… those are all components of communication.”
The twelve-month online MSHRM program, launched in 2012, to imitate the accelerated weekend program stablished on 2002 that focuses on the crucial skills required to manage within an increasingly diverse and international workplace.
Why obtain a degree online? For most MSHRM students, flexibility is the key.
“I can manage my time better,” said Espinoza. “I can adapt the class schedule to my convenience.”
For Jennings, the online program was the right fit. “I’m a working student,” she added. “If you have a full-time job, it’s great.”
In addition to the mock trial and class sessions, the visiting students participated in a team building exercise and a lunch and learn discussion.
Planning and executing the residency visit was challenging for the MSHRM team, but they insist the results were worth it. “Once you see how excited and appreciative the students were, it only makes you feel proud of the outcome and the institution you represent,” said Paula Bernal, senior program manager for MSHRM. “It is definitely an experience that has added value to the program and we look forward to continuing this event annually.”
At the Lunch and Learn forum, professor Marc Weinstein led a panel discussion with six members of MSHRM’s advisory board. Topics included changes in the labor market, the expectations of HR professionals, leadership competencies in the industry, and romance at work. Presenters highlighted “drive, influence and judgment” as must-have characteristics for leaders.
“We (HR professionals) are the engine that helps to drive change and are able to mold the culture of the organization based on those changes,” said Maribel Diz, vice president of human resources at Visa, Inc.