Huntsman Post

New statewide HR executive program prepares students to lead

By Steve Eaton

When Huntsman professor Steve Hanks taught a human resources class to a group of nearly 50 graduate students recently, he had to be sure that the student in the back row was paying attention. After all, Dr. Hanks was in Salt Lake City and the student was in St. George.

Dr. Hanks didn’t seem to have any problem engaging his students even though they were spread across the states of Utah, Nevada and Idaho. In fact, an outsider observing them might be surprised at how close the students in this group appear to be even though most of their interactions come thanks to a satellite hookup.

Students from the MSHR Executive Program work together. They are, from left to right, Mark Castillo, Anna Franson, Danielle Colvin and Drew Berryessa. - Photo by Steve Eaton

In addition to the satellite connection, however, they all have something else in common. They have been attending class together on Friday nights and Saturday mornings since January of this year; and when they graduate, they will have earned the only Master of Science in Human Resources (MSHR) degree offered in Utah. The accredited program is considered so unique that students from the 17 western states accepted into it qualify for Utah in-state tuition.

It’s a degree that appeals to some, because it includes a solid foundation of business acumen, as well as in-depth training in how to lead and manage people, said Dr. Hanks, who teaches one of the intensive five-week courses the students take.

“Human resources is kind of the bridge to build the human capability to take an organization where you are trying to go,” he said. “When people typically think about HR, they think about the benefits, the orientation and the red tape that must be processed when people get hired. Maybe that was the heart of HR 30 years ago, but these days HR is really about building the talent and capability of an enterprise.”

The HR master’s degree helps prepare graduates for leadership positions.

“A leader may have great aspirations; but if he or she can’t mobilize people to achieve those goals, progress will be slow,” Dr. Hanks said.

Brad Winn is director of the graduate HR executive program, which offers the classes via satellite. He agrees with Dr. Hanks.

“This executive program is really about the strategic leadership of people and understanding the human dimensions of business,” he said. “And frankly, it’s the people side of the organization where most of your problems are, so it’s a great skill to have.”

Angela Johnson, who attends in Orem, Utah, said professors make sure that what they are teaching can be applied in the workplace. Students say they also learn from each other. Many of them are experienced professionals who have come back to earn an MSHR degree after working for several years.

There are 49 students who are now taking courses toward their degree. In Utah they are linked by satellite in Blanding, Brigham City, Delta, Ephraim, Kaysville, Logan, Orem, Richfield, Roosevelt, St. George, Price, Salt Lake City, Tooele and Vernal. There are also students in Reno, Nev., and in Sugar City, Idaho, who are linked into the Salt Lake City location. The course is typically broadcast from the program’s Salt Lake City location on the fifth floor of the Granite Education Center at 2500 S. Main.

Brian Wood, left, and Drew Berryessa attend in the Salt Lake City location. - Photo by Steve Eaton

Rachel Hester, of Tooele, is a single mother of three and said she could not commute to Logan or even a college in Salt Lake City to take the class. She said she can go to work, come home and fix dinner for the kids and be back at school without having to factor in a long commute.

Her feelings are echoed by many in the program.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet other professionals in the field and learn from them as well as learn from the professors,” said Anna Franson, who lives in Salt Lake.

Eighty percent of those pursuing an MSHR degree are students who have graduated with a business degree.

Each course the students take runs for five weeks, and classes are held on Friday night and Saturday morning. A dozen USU instructors take turns teaching the classes. Some students go on to earn an MBA, in addition to their MSHR degree.

Brian Wood, who attends class in Salt Lake City, said he appreciates the support he’s received from the faculty members who teach.

“The faculty members are amazing,” he said. “I feel like they are approachable. They are easy to contact. They are pretty flexible and open.”

More information about the program is available on the MSHR Executive program Web site.  A video about the program may also be viewed on the Huntsman School's YouTube channel.