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Storied MSIR program celebrates 60th anniversary at WVU

You may not know it, but West Virginia University is home to one of the most storied and historically significant programs of its kind in the nation.

The Master of Science in Industrial Relations and Human Resources  program, commonly known as MSIR and housed in the WVU College of Business and Economics, was the focus of a 60th anniversary celebration over the weekend in WVU’s business school. For the program that became fully operational in 1958 — only seven years after WVU created the College of Commerce that would become B&E — program alumni and students came together to celebrate MSIR’s history, success and evolution.

MSIR 60th anniversary Banquet

The 60th Anniversary celebration of WVU’s MSIR program included program alumni and current graduate students last week. Marc Chini, Executive Vice President and Human Resources Leader at Synchrony Financial who earned MSIR and undergraduate degrees at WVU, spoke at the celebration’s professional development conference.

“Reaching a milestone such as a 60-year anniversary is an achievement worth celebrating, and our highlight reel is substantial!” said Dr. Thomas Zeni, MSIR program coordinator and teaching assistant professor of Management. “We knew this milestone shouldn’t just be about looking backward; there’s a lot more success for MSIR in the future and we wanted to honor the past while embracing that future. That mindset actually set the tone for Friday’s professional development conference.”

The celebration started Oct. 25 with a tailgate event prior to the WVU-Baylor football game, followed by the professional development conference that included both alumni and current MSIR students on Oct. 26. Events were attended by dozens of alumni and current MSIR students, as well as WVU administrative officials including Provost Joyce McConnell, who commended the program in meeting critical human capital needs in West Virginia and around the world.

“We know that HR professionals play a critical role in helping us build and sustain that workforce,” McConnell said at the conference. “We need to overcome hurdles that are impacting employers across the country, like the growing demand for tech skills, the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the shifting trends in employment. I know first-hand that talented HR professionals can make the difference. When they are creative, innovative, compassionate and forward-thinking, these individuals and teams can transform an entire company.”

The professional development conference concluded with the surprise announcement that the primary focus of the MSIR Funds for the Future campaign would be for an endowed professorship created in the name of William “Hutch” Hutchison. Hutch, a 1969 graduate of the MSIR program and volunteer, evolved into a full-time faculty member and the MSIR program’s Executive-in-Residence for nearly two decades. A retired HR executive from Dow Chemical Corp. with 31 years of HR experience, he will retire from the MSIR program at the end of the 2018-19 academic year.

“In conjunction with our 60th Anniversary activities, we launched the MSIR Funds for the Future campaign with the purpose of raising external support for the program, including creating an endowed professorship to help ensure we have the right mix of talent to educate future students,” said Zeni. “Hutch positively impacted the lives of almost every student in the program since he began volunteering to teach a practicum 40 years ago. It was a unanimous decision by our business school administration, major donors and program supporters to name the endowment we are working toward the William Hutchison Endowed Professor of Industrial Relations, in honor of someone who has given so much to ensure the success of the MSIR program and its students.”
Zeni added that B&E is invested and committed to the future success of the program. Efforts like MSIR Funds for the Future lay the groundwork for the program’s next 60 years, including attracting and retaining faculty, executives-in-residence and teaching professors, and creating a more meaningful student experience.

Dr. Neil Bucklew, who was president of West Virginia University from 1986-95 and was a full-time faculty member in the MSIR program from 1995-2016, said the conference provided an important reason for graduates and employers to return to campus to celebrate the anniversary of one of the oldest and most well established HR programs in the nation.

“The program is one of the original graduate programs in the field of human resources,” Bucklew said. “From the beginning the program has shown the ability to modify the curriculum to assure that it is at the cutting edge of the field. The MSIR program is known across the U.S. for producing well-grounded and hard-working graduates. We often hear from corporations that they favor hiring our grads because they have a strong work ethic and a skill set second to none. A number of major employers come back year after year to recruit our students. This pattern is measured in decades, not just years.”

Asking questions at MSIR

MSIR program alum Tina Bigalke, PepsiCo’s senior vice president of HR for Frito Lay North America, returned to the WVU campus last week to help commemorate the 60th anniversary of the program.

The Master of Science in Industrial Relations degree, housed within the Institute of Industrial Relations, first appeared in the 1957-58 graduate catalog, and the program was fully operational by 1958. In its early years, Dr. Robert Decker, a professor of psychology, subsequently became the MSIR program director and the program, which was truly interdisciplinary at its inception, was offered in a cooperative arrangement among the Psychology Department, the College of Commerce and the Institute for Labor Studies.

The program saw many curricular changes over its first decade, and in 1971 — the same year the College of Commerce became the College of Business and Economics — the program moved entirely into the renamed business school. In 1972, the first woman graduated from the program and MSIR continued to grow, incorporating involvement by its alumni by the mid-1980s. As it grew, it began to thrive with feedback and relationships with corporate partners and employers. By the early 2000s, the program had started a global track of study, created the GE Mock Interview Competition, put into place advisory councils that engaged alumni and MSIR young professionals, aligned itself with the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and launched the two-year program with a required summer internship.

Recent occurrences have served as important milestones in the program’s history as well: in 2016, MSIR graduate Chris DeBord returned to WVU as vice president of Talent and Culture; in 2016, Tina Bigalke, PepsiCo’s senior vice president for HR for Frito Lay North America and a MSIR alumna returned to her alma mater as part of the B&E Distinguished Speaker Series; and in 2017, WVU’s MSIR case competition team won the graduate student division of the SHRM Case Competition and Career Summit in Philadelphia.

Today’s MSIR students get practical experience through programs such as the GE Interview Competition and the Collective Bargaining Simulation, as well as an experiential learning component called the WVU Talent and Culture Fellowship, where students compete for an opportunity to work for a semester with high-level HR professionals at the university. The program has also taken on a more global focus in recent years, and students now have the opportunity to study abroad in France, Germany and Switzerland.

For further information on the WVU College of Business and Economics, follow B&E on Twitter at @wvucobe or visit www.business.wvu.edu.

-WVU-

Contact: Patrick Gregg, WVU College of Business and Economics, patrick.gregg@mail.wvu.edu or 304.293.5131

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