Dr. Shital Thekdi, assistant professor of management, has written community outreach into her Managing Projects and Processes syllabus. Since January her students have been working with community partner organizations on projects that culminated in presentations sharing recommendations based on real-life datasets and mathematical tools derived from project management and systems analysis disciplines. The partner organizations included Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), Richmond Regional Planning District Commission (RRPDC), Communities In School - Richmond (CIS) and City of Richmond Department of Public Works (COR). 

"We've been fortunate to work with great clients, and the students enjoyed working together on a longer-term project to provide recommendations that could benefit the community directly," said Thekdi. "The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement has helped some faculty members utilize classes for community outreach, so with that goal I sought out datasets from local organizations and worked with them to define each project’s scope. From there the students analyzed the data in order to define viable recommendations for their partner organization."

Last month the groups presented their recommendations to their clients. Some of Thekdi's students shared their experience in the course.

Aidan Sullivan, '15, a business administration major with a finance concentration, enrolled in Thekdi's class after taking her Business Statistics class. "I enjoyed her class and was interested in learning more about technical business strategies and decision-making tools," he said. Sullivan’s team worked with VDEM to make “recommendations on how they can better measure emergency preparedness of other state agencies and higher education institutions. Our main focus was to adjust VDEM’s survey to be more quantifiable and holistic in order to first gauge how prepared agencies are to handle disasters and second to make informed recommendations for improvement.” 

Derek Roetzel, '15, a business administration major with a concentration in management, joined the class because of his interest in management consulting. “A class that teaches students how to analyze and improve systems sounded like a great fit.” Roetzel’s group worked with CIS, “which bridges the gap between community resources and students in need. From the data we found bullying is a significant concern in Richmond public schools, so we looked to identify other schools’ best practices in order to pinpoint and recommend tactics that would address bullying in Richmond. We found ways to measure the impact of our suggestions so as to ensure the programs CIS invests in are measurable. 

Jessie Barford, '15, a business administration major with a concentration in management, also decided to take Thekdi's class after taking her Business Statistics class. "Planning is a crucial part of the project management process, and it’s often overlooked or rushed; I wanted to learn more about project management and planning’s common pitfalls.” Barford’s group worked with RRPDC. “The objective was to identify transportation options for low-income residents living in food deserts and to compare transportation alternatives in order to find the best-fit solution. We researched best practices, established rating criteria and performed qualitative and quantitative metrics. I had an incredible experience in the class and working with RRPDC."

In the end the class taught the students the tools they needed to complete the projects successfully. The projects focused on defining the clients’ problems, diagramming the complex system, defining objectives, researching to identify alternative candidate solutions and using data-based mathematical tools to make recommendations to the client. Working to uphold The Richmond Promise, Thekdi and her students provide invaluable services to our community; their dedication to improving our city will continue to brighten Richmond’s future.

Photo: Jessie Barford, Erich Gertz, Emily Revelle and May Sun (not pictured) ride the GRTC bus to get experience of residents in Richmond food desert areas

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