UND MBA & MPA Students Connect in Washington, D.C.
UND’s graduate business and public administration programs connect online and campus students through an interactive, engaging class platform. This technology is exemplified in courses such as ECON/POLS 503 “Government & Business.” During their spring break in March, MBA, MPA, and MAcc students from across the country converged in Washington, D.C. as a way to see first-hand how business and government intertwine. This class is team taught by one MBA professor and one MPA professor, who meld topics from economics and public administration to make students aware of the important interrelationship of business and government in an era of globalization. During their week in D.C., students had the opportunity to meet with business executives, government officials, congressional staffers, and lobbyists to gain a better understanding of course topics.
The professors, Dr. Dana Harsell and Dr. Pat O’Neill, have taught this course together for 10 years, offering students the chance to observe up-close the concepts being learned within the classroom. However, the past two years have provided a more distinctive experience for students, as the course has been opened to online students. This allows students both on campus and at a distance to login and attend courses live, and participate in class discussions virtually from anywhere in the world.
For this year’s trip, students travelled to D.C. from North Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. While students interacted all semester through class lectures, the trip marked the first time they were able to meet each other in-person.
“Meeting with the distance students provided a really unique opportunity,” said Whitney Klym, a campus MPA student from the course. “Many of the students were in my previous classes and this trip provided us a chance to finally meet in-person and to develop friendships with the people that I normally couldn’t interact with.”
Dr. Harsell noted the initial interaction between students who were meeting during the first night of the trip. “It was like there were these bonds that were already there and it was like they’d known each other for a long time,” he said. “To me, I think that students appreciate getting to see their colleagues firsthand, and I do think it helps to build community.”
After getting acquainted, the students’ busy agenda included appointments with business leaders, government officials and lobbyists from organizations such as FDIC, Cargill, the American Beverage Association, IBM, National Endowment for the Arts, BNSF, Deloitte, and Microsoft. The students also had the opportunity to hear from members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Hoeven and Sen. Heitkamp, as well as network with UND alumni working in the D.C. area.
The group’s discussions centered on how particular companies work to influence government policy and decision-making, with company representatives stressing the importance of building coalitions across Washington. They also discussed how companies deal with the effects of massive legislation which affects their business.
During this year’s trip, the major policy issues being discussed across Washington included corporate tax cuts from the comprehensive tax reform bill, and tariffs imposed on global competitors by the current administration. Students learned how these policy changes affect the global business environment and the steps lobbyists have taken to adjust their approach around such policies.
“One of the common takeaways this time was talking with people who were trying to understand the outcomes or impacts of the tax bill that was passed in December,” said Harsell. “And so, we heard from some companies about how they were identifying some of these unintended consequences with the bill and working with either the Administration or Congress to try to remedy these and try to get some understanding to help them move forward as an enterprise.”
Dr. O’Neill mentioned that when he and Harsell are planning out the trip and connecting with potential speakers, they often try to connect with high-level executives and UND alums. Their goal is to help the students learn from their experiences and to showcase high-caliber UND students. They believe that networking and building relationships are the key components that have allowed this trip to grow and provide unique experiences for students. Harsell also noted that a course alum was key in facilitating a meeting with BNSF representatives, showing how the course has come full circle, and the importance of giving back to experiences that make a difference for students.
“Whether you’re a student who’s just starting out or you’re a student who’s a mid-career professional looking to move up, hearing from other professionals about the choices they’ve made and how they’ve advanced through the ranks I think can be useful for every student,” said O’Neill.
For O’Neill, this year’s trip marked his final year teaching the course, and he reflected on what the experience has meant to him over the past 16 years. “It’s been so exciting to watch all of the interaction with students and the practitioners and know how beneficial it is for the learning, the development, the career enhancement of any student who gets there, regardless if they’re an MBA, MPA, MSAE, or now even a MAcc student.” He believes the recent addition of online students to the course has provided an enriched experience for everyone involved saying, “I think it has been stepped up a couple notches for the people who have been in the class the past two years. For me, it’s kind of going out on a high point after all those years.”
After the week in D.C. concluded, Matthew Stockner, an online MBA student in the course who is living in Virginia, described his experience with the class. “The breadth of organizations students gain access to through this course should not be understated, as anyone is bound to encounter experiences that operates within their realm of interest. The depth of access that students are granted is also remarkable. From meeting a sitting U.S. Senator to asking pointed questions of interest group lobbyists, the opportunities provided to probe the interactions of business and government in-person are stellar.”
This course is just one example of the high-impact learning opportunities that students can experience in the MBA and MPA programs. If you would like more information on these programs, contact Kate Menzies at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by the CoBPA Graduate Programs office in Room 160.