Consulting capstone helps students gain hands-on experience before graduation

Illustration by Daniel Hertzberg.

Wrapping Learning Around Doing

The late 1980s were a tough time for American business. The rise and expanding reach of Asian and European manufacturers, especially the Japanese auto and electronics industries, left American businesses scrambling to manufacture products of the same quality at a competitive price. “Made in America” was no longer seen as a mark of quality, and U.S. companies lost their edge when faced with global competition.

Then President Ronald Reagan asked Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige to develop a solution. Baldrige helped craft the National Quality Improvement Act of 1987, which led to the creation of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. The program provides a range of tools and educational opportunities to help American businesses and organizations improve their performance and recognizes the leaders in this field with an annual presidential award for performance excellence.

Dr. Janice Garfield.
That tool is the foundation for Walden’s Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) consulting capstone, which enrolled its first cohort of students in 2016. Dr. Janice Garfield, director of professional doctorate capstone innovation and assessment, played a key role in creating the program. Garfield taught in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership for eight years before she left Walden to become a Baldrige consultant and coach, but she remained connected to her colleagues. A conversation with DBA program director Dr. Freda Turner sparked a new idea.

“The DBA program was developing a work-based alternative capstone,” Garfield says. “Dr. Turner asked for my input, and I knew that if we put Baldrige’s comprehensive, systems-based framework in the hands of doctoral business students, the result could be dynamic for both the students and the organizations they served.”

Garfield developed the curriculum for the consulting capstone and returned to Walden as a core DBA faculty member to help launch the program in which students are paired with a nonprofit or small business. Students use the Baldrige framework to help their clients think about their processes and performance outcomes and conduct in-depth research about the organization. They then draft evidence-based action steps for improvement and share their recommendations with their client leaders.

“Most DBA programs front-load skills and theories. In the consulting capstone, we teach our students how to use a powerful tool and have them put it to work in the community,” Garfield says. “Our students embark on a learning journey with the leader of their client organization, doing real work with real people in real time. It’s a unique approach that allows students to make a difference for their partner organizations. We wrap learning around doing.”

The DBA consulting capstone students originally all worked with nonprofit organizations. Recently, the program has expanded to include small-business clients. But the social change mission of the university is still at the forefront of the engagement.

“All capstones are mission-centered,” adds Garfield. “Students and their client organizations are working to make improvements that will allow them to be stronger contributors to the U.S. and global economies, bringing jobs, investment, and opportunity to the communities where they’re located.”

Over the past three years, the program has graduated 14 scholar-consultants and grown to more than 40 current students. The university has already expanded the consulting capstone option to the PsyD in Behavioral Health Leadership program and is planning on adding it to other programs soon.

“The consulting capstone provides scholar-consultants with a full arsenal of tools to become productive, engaged leaders who are ready to drive improvement now and in the future in a variety of industries,” Garfield says. — Susan Walker

Anchored In Ambition

Dr. Tammy Jameson
Dr. Tammy Jameson ’17.
Photo by Greg Dohler.
Dr. Tammy Jameson was a single mother of two with a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Business Administration already under her belt when she enrolled at Walden University. At the time, she was unsure of the next step in her career in homeland security and disaster response. But thanks to the DBA consulting capstone program, she soon founded her own Washington, D.C., consulting firm.

Jameson’s experience as the first graduate of the consulting capstone program in 2017 inspired her to make a career out of helping organizations tackle obstacles and find success. “Having my DBA and participating in the capstone lit a fire in me,” Jameson says. “The whole experience really changed my life for the better.”

Her first client success story begins with Jacie Knight, artistic director and founder of Minneapolis nonprofit Youth Performance Company (YPC). After being invited to participate in the consulting capstone pilot program, Jameson was intrigued by the chance to work with YPC.

“I thought it was an awesome opportunity to be able to serve as a scholar-consultant versus the traditional doctoral study capstone,” Jameson recalls. Using the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework as a guide, she worked remotely with Knight and YPC for a year, resulting in a 360-degree review of the organization.

“It’s always great to be reflective about what you’re doing, but you don’t often do that because you’re so busy just trying to survive,” Knight says. “When we signed on as a client for Walden’s consulting capstone, we were going through an especially difficult time as an organization.” Because of that, she says working with Jameson came at the perfect time.

“We needed to take a look at how we did business and how we needed to change for the future if we wanted to survive,” Knight says. “Tammy asking questions about our business—like what worked and how many people took our classes— was helpful for me to assess who and where we were as an organization.”

Two years later, YPC is still feeling the impact of Jameson’s consulting services. “We’re redefining YPC,” Knight says. “There’s still a lot of change to come, but I feel very anchored and focused thanks to the work we did with Tammy.”

But Jameson remembers struggling to feel like the work she was doing was meaningful during the process. Luckily, Dr. Janice Garfield, director of professional doctorate capstone innovation and assessment, helped her keep things in perspective.

“When you’re conducting interviews and collecting data, you don’t feel like you’re doing anything great, but Dr. Garfield helped me realize that my research was impactful,” Jameson recalls. “Talking to Jacie and hearing how much I helped YPC made me realize that was what I wanted to do. I’ve always been passionate about helping others because I want everyone to win.”

Just seven months after completing her DBA, Jameson founded Capital Business Solutions LLC. She offers services ranging from business development and consulting to emergency management, planning, and preparedness for nonprofits, government agencies, and local businesses.

“Although I loved my job with the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region, I liked helping people and giving back more,” Jameson says. “Walden taught me the importance of being a social change maker and how to use leadership to make a positive impact on the world, which inspired me to want to have my own firm and help organizations solve business problems.

“I’m proud of having my own firm,” she says. “But I’m most proud of the ability to use my platform as a vehicle to impact the lives of others.” — Rebecca Kirkman

Illustration by Daniel Hertzberg.
A Continuing Commitment

There are some things you just aren’t ready to let go of. For Dr. Alan Gunnerson ’19, his experience in the DBA consulting capstone program was one of those things. “It was meaningful,” he says. “It became personal.” Dr. Sanja Hudson ’18 feels the same way. She says her own experience not only helped her grow professionally but also provided an unexpected opportunity to make a difference.

What has kept both Gunnerson and Hudson engaged is a unique and enduring experience that allows doctoral candidates to work with organizations to research and recommend real-life solutions to real-world business challenges.

Listening to recent DBA consulting capstone graduates, you get the impression it’s more than an academic exercise; it’s an enlightening experience that can take doctoral candidates out of their comfort zones and into places they ultimately want to stay.

Dr. Alan Gunnerson ’19.
Gunnerson, a retired major in the U.S. Army with a background in military intelligence, worked with the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF). A worldwide nonprofit that provides training and support to first responders, ICISF works with professionals who have been involved in critical incidents that have left them emotionally or physically affected. Gunnerson developed a final report that provided the nonprofit with strategies to diversify its funding sources, but he also connected with the cause on a personal and professional level.

“I have many co-workers and friends who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered with PTSD,” he says. “I attended some of the ICISF trainings and worked with first responders. The impact of what they’re doing and what I could contribute really hit home.”

Dr. Sanja Hudson ’18.

Hudson’s experience was equally meaningful. The owner of a successful consulting business, Hudson has had a long career in healthcare operations management, including previously serving as executive director of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. She was matched with Phoenix Allies for Community Health (PACH), a nonprofit volunteer-run free clinic in Arizona. The clinic’s mission is to provide healthcare to low-income communities with no access to primary care.

During her partnership with PACH, Hudson was moved by the 500 patients the clinic routinely serves and that everyone in the organization—from physicians to front desk personnel—are unpaid volunteers. Her final report to the group recommended strategies to improve volunteer engagement.

By choice, neither Gunnerson nor Hudson is finished with their client organizations just yet. As part of Gunnerson’s consulting capstone work, he was asked to address the ICISF board of directors several times as he worked through his research and recommendations. In the future, he may join the board himself. Hudson continues to stay in contact with the PACH clinic, volunteering consulting advice. She recently learned that thanks in part to her recommendations, the clinic has recruited additional providers and increased engagement among volunteers and board members.

“Though I’ve been a consultant for more than 10 years, I learned a lot,” Hudson says. “My goal was to enhance my consulting skills and knowledge for my business, and I achieved both. Now that I’m done, I actually miss it.”— Kevin C. Thornton

From Students To Examiners And Community Consultants

Dr. Andria Coleman ’18.
Dr. Andria Coleman ’18 and Dr. Allen Turner ’18 got more than their degrees when they completed the DBA consulting capstone.

Coleman, a leader at New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, became a national Baldrige examiner and a nursing home examiner for the Baldrige-based American Health Care Association. “Being an examiner allows me to look through a holistic lens and help organizations and their leaders be successful,” says Coleman. “Because of the DBA consulting capstone, I have an opportunity to be an advocate for an organization and see the immediate effect of applying the Baldrige criteria. I am part of the solution.”

Dr. Allen Turner ’18.

Turner, a special agent and emergency manager for NASA, is Walden’s second student to be awarded the Dr. Curt Reimann Baldrige Scholarship, which will cover the cost of his training to become an examiner. He has also found new opportunities at work and in his community. “I was nominated for a service selection board evaluating medical research organizations for NASA,” he says. “The capstone gave me the confidence to take on projects like this and opened the door for more volunteer involvement in my community. I’m using my business and subject matter expertise to help nonprofits in my community find new ways to use their volunteers, raise needed funds, and adapt as the community’s needs change.”— Susan Walker

A Look At The Baldrige Performance Excellence Criteria

Baldrige examiners use their knowledge of the Baldrige framework to evaluate organizations all over the country that have applied for the annual Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. That framework is used to build an organizational profile focused on several criteria:

  • How senior leaders’ personal actions and the organization’s governance systems guide and sustain the organization.
  • How the organization develops strategic objectives and action plans, implements them, changes them if needed, and measures progress.
  • How the organization engages customers for long-term marketplace success.
  • How the organization measures, analyzes, and manages knowledge to drive improvement, innovation, and competitiveness.
  • How workforce practices create and maintain a high-performance environment.
  • How the organization focuses its work, product design and delivery, innovation, and operational effectiveness to achieve success.
  • The results the organization achieves.

— Susan Walker

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