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Students get real-world consulting experience

Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Psychology students get real-world consulting experience.

By Marie Wood, Free Press Correspondent [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 10/16/2011]

Jake Forsman traveled to Germany to present a leadership development report to atrain GmbH, a global consulting firm whose clients are large pharmaceutical companies.

Forsman is one of 22 graduate students in the Industrial/Organizational Psychology Program at Minnesota State Mankato. Along with his classmates, Forsman is gaining real-world experience locally, in Washington, D.C., and in Europe as an associate consultant in the program’s Organizational Effectiveness Research Group.

Led by professors and staffed by students, OERG is a private consulting practice that specializes in employee selection, training and development. Services include customer and employee surveys, performance improvement and research and statistical analysis.

Using hard scientific methods, Forsman was charged with determining if a questionnaire was effective in helping its clients select and develop leaders.

In fact, the company was so impressed by Forsman and OERG that he and graduate student Jessica Morales were selected to intern there. They spent their summer working at the office in Bamberg, a world heritage site in Bavaria, Germany.

They helped develop a leadership training program for one of atrain’s clients, a large pharmaceutical corporation. OERG has identified three major traits for successful leaders: flexibility, problem-solving and communication skills.

OERG charges their clients, but all the money goes back to the program to help fund further projects. The model is especially relevant today amid funding cuts to higher education, because the department generates revenue.

In addition, OERG’s rates are about 50 percent lower than national firms. It’s a win-win for the clients, university and, especially, the students.

Sachau and his colleagues all have doctorate degrees and a wealth of experience working with large corporate and government organizations.

The graduate program is 20 years old and began taking on clients 10 years ago. It started with a single project for a local computer company followed by an employee opinion survey for Midwest Wireless. First-rate services and a strong alumni and professional network have led to subsequent jobs locally and globally.

An international beef producer had questions about its hiring process. As part of the research, OERG spent a day in the processing plant.

One of the most exciting trips was to London to test the abilities of pursuit drivers for the London Metropolitan Police. Minnesota State Mankato Associate Professor Lisa Perez, an expert in stress management, led the study that included measuring drivers’ brain waves and stress levels.

Perez, colleagues and students rode in the back of fast-moving cars through London streets. They went to a training area where they performed movie-quality chases, high speed U-turns and skidding maneuvers.

Graduate student Stevie Collini traveled to Washington, D.C., last year to maintain relationships with clients including the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the United States Marshals Service.

Collini is currently the project manager on a member satisfaction survey of 50,000 members for Catalyst Rx, a leading pharmacy benefits manager. Collini has already processed 30,000 surveys and Catalyst Rx was so pleased with her productivity, that it’s increasing her workload.

Collini also interned for Trinity Health, where she implemented teamwork training to nurses and doctors to improve patient care. Upon graduation, she plans to enter the health care field.

When Collini and her peers receive their master’s degrees from Minnesota State Mankato, they will be looking for jobs as external consultants or specialists in human resources departments. And they will have experience on their resumes.

Thanks to their professors and OERG, they will know how to help organizations manage change, transform its culture, improve teamwork, implement training, select and develop leaders, create measures and analyze surveys.

More about OERG is at

To read the complete Free Press story, see Sunday's print edition, or go to the e-edition at

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