Building Stronger Nonprofits, Profs. Scott, Porra Lend Talents

Published on May 19, 2010

IT Project Management Class Honored for Partnership with Non-Profit Community

Dr. Jaana Porra and Dr. Carl Scott teach MIS students project management through partnership with the Executive Service Corps Houston.

In six years, a class offered at the C. T. Bauer College of Business has helped more than 100 Houston-area nonprofits through real-world consulting projects.

Clinical assistant professor Carl Scott and associate professor Jaana Porra teach the MIS project management class in partnership with the Executive Service Corps Houston, a nationwide nonprofit organization that offers one-on-one professional consulting to area businesses. This Spring, ESCH honored Dr. Scott and Dr. Porra with a Community Partner Award for their work over the years.

“The partnership is a win-win situation,” said ESCH consultant Hugh Williams who presented the award to the professors at a recent luncheon. “Students work with an ESCH mentor on projects for selected nonprofit clients. Students get to use their technical palettes in a real-life setting, and the nonprofit community benefits from their work.”

Brenda Cooper was one of the many students who took Dr. Scott’s class, and later served as an undergraduate assistant for the program. Her team created a website for a charity that connects families of children with autism.

“Working with our nonprofit was a great experience,” says Cooper. “There are so many things in MIS you don’t learn – or can’t learn – until you do them. Things like servicing a client relationship or managing a team against a deadline – those are marketable skills we wouldn’t learn in a traditional classroom.”

Students use what they learn in their MIS studies to create websites, databases, point of sale systems and integrated networks, among other possible projects. At the start, teams consult with the client to determine what technology solution aligns best with the overall business goals. Teams are graded not only on the final deliverable, but on how well they managed the project – from lining out a scope of work, managing client expectations, meeting deadlines and showing progress and documentation.

By adding capacity to the nonprofit’s operations, the projects have a ripple effect on the nonprofit’s impact to the community, which Dr. Porra says is a positive motivator for students.

“The most rewarding thing about this process is that students learn you don’t have to have a lot of money to make a contribution to your community; you can give with your skill,” says Porra.

“Many of my students are first-generation Americans, so their sense of community isn’t as strong as it might be if they were from here. Through this program, the students help with relevant, exciting causes, and they begin to feel a part of this community.”

The program came about in 2004 when former ESCH director and retired founder and CEO of GE Continental Controls Inc. Pete Burkowitz approached Dr. Scott about the idea. Scott also uses the approach in another class that counsels clients of UH’s Small Business Development Center. It’s a teaching method, Scott says, that really impacts student learning.

“When I told my students that ESCH would be honoring Bauer College, our students were humbled. They felt they should be the ones thanking ESCH. The opportunity given to these students is priceless,” said Scott.

“It really is an honor to work on these projects,” says Cooper. “Not only are we satisfying a need, we are supplying hope and encouragement to the community.”

“Professionally, it has given me practical experience I can talk about in interviews. These are real projects and real companies – it is a rare opportunity, especially for undergraduates.”

By Lori Reichardt