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Point Park University sends professors to students

| Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012, 11:59 p.m.

While rush-hour traffic clogs East Carson Street and the Parkway East across the Monongahela River, a group of employees commutes to a conference room in their company's South Side headquarters.

They are not there for a late afternoon meeting at Invivodata, a medical records software firm. They're earning graduate degrees.

“If this hadn't come to me, I don't know if I would have gone out right away and pursued it,” said Jodi Andrews, a senior marketing manager for the firm and one of nine employees enrolled in Point Park University's on-site master's in business administration program. “I know if I were doing my MBA on my own, it would be much more challenging.”

The Downtown university is one of the few still sending professors to students, as once was popular in education, said Robert Sowell, vice president of programs and operations with the Washington-based Council of Graduate Schools.

“This model has been around for a long, long time,” Sowell said. “But it doesn't have the visibility or as much interest among our members, who are much more interested in technology-based online teaching.”

Point Park started its on-site program in 2009. Invivodata is the third company to partner with the university. GAI Consultants Inc. of Homestead graduated 14 employees last year.

In 2010, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh partnered with Spertus in Chicago to offer graduate degrees in Jewish professional studies to local professionals working with Jewish communal organizations.

About a dozen people are finalizing work to complete the two-year program.

“We believe there is a body of knowledge and professional practice one has to have to work in the Jewish community and to move forward in their careers,” said federation CEO Jeff Finkelstein, who said he has seen benefits with his two employees who are in the program.

Spertus regularly flew a professor from Chicago to Pittsburgh at the beginning of the program before a local professor was hired.

Point Park sends one of its MBA professors to worksites to teach. Helena Knorr leads the Invivodata classes.

“Education is going to permeate the company's culture and spread,” Knorr said.

The on-site program is part of Invivodata's commitment to continuing education for its employees, said CEO Doug Engfer. In January, the company started a program that repays employees up to $1,000 a year for tuition costs.

“We do plan to continue it and to encourage folks to take advantage of it,” Engfer said.

Like Finkelstein, Engfer said he already sees an impact of the MBA program at work, including with the quality of analysis and business reviews at meetings.

“There are much more comprehensive ideas in proposals,” he said. “It is exceeding expectations.”

Part of the reason is that the program can be customized to some extent to the company and industry while the overall experience is the same that is offered on campus, said Arch Maharaja, who coordinates Point Park's on-site MBA programs.

He said the on-site programs offer better discussions and debates than online classes.

“When we are off-site at employer sites, the employer and employees start realizing and visualizing the educational investment quickly,” Maharaja said.

Sharing this experience with fellow employees has created bonds that might not have existed otherwise, Andrews said.

“It brings people in different departments together,” she said. “It builds a sense of loyalty and commitment to the company.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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