HRIS Students Teach Business Efficiency, Make Community Service Part of Life

Living Resources is a not-for-profit agency headquartered on New Scotland Avenue in Albany where persons with disabilities such as mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders and other neurological impairments are able to live in comfortable, residential homes and receive numerous vocational and personal care services.

Now, thanks to Albany students like Mike Weldon, Living Resources is able to provide needed training to staff members, has a new overtime scheduling system, has embarked on a Total Quality Management program, and is developing a new incentive system that will reward staff members for helping the company run more effectively.

Weldon is a second-year MBA student at the School of Business specializing in Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS), and he's part of the team that's working for Living Resources as a field project. "Right now we're finishing putting together training packets for managers," he said. "We want to be able to start training them in February."

Last year, students began preparing training packets that could be used by individual managers to train their staff in such areas as diagnosis of process problems, driver training, safe lifting and effective communications. The packets contained instructional brochures, videos and other materials designed to guide the manager through a training session. When Weldon and his teammates have finished creating the packets, the next step will be to train the managers so they become comfortable training their staff members. They will also follow up to be sure the training is implemented and coach the supervisors when necessary.

"The work fits right in with what I want to do after I get my degree," said Weldon. "I want to get into training; it's a way to teach without being in a classroom. A lot of my classmates are working more with computers, but I really want to work primarily with people. This project is giving me exactly the kind of experience I need."

With a $9 million annual budget and 300 employees, Living Resources provides a full range of clinical, residential, vocational, after school and case management services for 350 families in Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties. The School became involved in doing pro bono projects for the agency in 1989, when Fred Erlich, executive director of Living Resources, was working on his MBA here. (Erlich, who received the MBA in 1994, also got his bachelor's at the University in 1969 and his Master's in Social Work in 1972.) Each year since then, two or three MBA students have helped Living Resources with tasks such as staffing, training and scheduling overtime. The overtime scheduling system the students developed saved Living Resources $110,000 in one six-week period.

At the same time, a group of doctoral students has implemented Total Quality Management (TQM) practices at Living Resources that are aimed at improving the quality of life for residents and staff. The students are collecting data from the project and using it to study the effectiveness of TQM in a non-profit setting. "It was through the help of the School of Business that we were able to take the risk of starting a TQM program," said Erlich. "The students and faculty gave us the support and training we needed to get started."

As part of the TQM program, students are helping Living Resources develop a set of "best practices," such as creating a certificate program for professional training, developing a reward system that uses a series of courses to reward staff members for work practices that help the agency operate more effectively, and designing hiring and training procedures that will ensure a greater degree of congruence in values between the agency and new employees.

"The School of Business is committed to making a meaningful contribution to the community and to fostering a sense of community responsibility in its students," said Associate Professor Dianna Stone, one of the HRIS faculty members who has been active in the Living Resources projects. Stone, who serves on the Living Resources Foundation board of directors, and other HRIS faculty members have also worked with students on a number of other pro bono projects.

There are also numerous projects being done for the community by other departments within the School, including Management Information Systems (MIS), Marketing and Accounting.

"Giving something back to our communities is a concept that has always been essential to our way of life," said Interim Dean Donald Bourque, "and we do everything we can to encourage our students to make community service a part of their lives. Projects like those we do at Living Resources not only help the agency and give the students excellent, practical experience, they also give the students a keen sense of satisfaction in having made a difference in someone else's life."

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