This post is part of our series outlining O’Neill’s commitment to excellence in undergraduate education by R.J. Woodring, Associate Dean for Educational Programs, and Andrea Need, Director of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.
Experts work together to develop strategies and procedures to solve a problem by creating a policy. That policy is then passed on to decision-makers who implement it by working together to make what is written on paper into reality.
That’s what happens at every level of the public, private, and nonprofit sector, but collaboration isn’t a skill that grows on its own. It needs to be nurtured, and it’s why collaboration underpins the curriculum at the O’Neill School.
Collaboration is the very foundation of public and environmental policy
Learning the tools and strategies needed for good collaboration is one of the high-impact practices identified by the American Association of Colleges and Universities for providing a significant educational benefit to students. They help students learn to work and solve problems together while sharpening their understanding by listening to the insights of others, particularly those with different backgrounds and life experiences.
Being comfortable working in diverse teams to solve problems is critical to the success of 21st century leaders, and the O’Neill School is dedicated to developing our students’ ability to listen, work together, and act. Our faculty have included collaborative assignments in courses throughout our curriculum, often simulating real cases students can expect to encounter as professionals.
Real-world case studies and group projects encourage collaboration
“It’s all application,” said Senior Lecturer Cheryl Hughes, who teaches O’Neill courses specializing in human resource management in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. “When you’re in the workforce, everything is about collaboration. So, every one of my classes that I teach, whether it’s human resources, management, or information systems, have some type of collaborative, interactive piece to it. The old formula of lectures and tests doesn’t work anymore.”
Hughes uses real-world scenarios to teach her students how to problem solve while considering other perspectives, all while managing their own time and holding each other accountable for work that needs to be done. The collaborative assignments go far beyond the practical methods of, for example, developing a job analysis, and instead incorporate the soft skills that take a student from being another recent graduate to someone who can make an immediate impact in their career.
“I’ve had students use the projects they’ve worked on in my class to get jobs,” Hughes said. “It’s all about active learning and getting them close to what they’ll experience in the work force.”
Whether in schools, universities, or workplaces, collaborative assignments foster a unique environment that nurtures skills, personal growth, and effective communication.
“I worked on a lot of group projects,” said Shannen Wisniewski, who earned a BSPA in 2017 with a focus on Human Resources Management. “In one particular HR class, it was my first opportunity for ‘the sky is the limit’ thinking. I didn’t know what to do with it—the syllabus literally read, ‘the sky is the limit.’ But it stretched me, and it was a really good group of students. We only worked together for six weeks on the actual project, but we got to know each other really well. … I benefitted from being exposed to the multiple perspectives offered.”
Collaborative assignments serve as catalysts for holistic growth and development. They foster a culture of shared knowledge, innovation, and cooperation, echoing the demands of today’s interconnected and teamwork-oriented world. By providing opportunities to refine skills, embrace diversity, and learn from one another, collaborative assignments at the O’Neill School prepare students to navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.