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Convocation firsts

Business faculty sees first graduates from research-based programs

special feature: Student success

Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring convocation 2017.

By Susan White

Memorial’s business faculty marks a significant milestone at fall convocation this year with the graduation of its first students from two of its research-based programs.

Jennifer Smith is the first graduate of the Faculty of Business Administration’s master of science (M.Sc.) in management program, which was established in 2014.

Heather Clarke is the first graduate of the organizational behaviour and human resources management stream of the PhD in management. The PhD program also offers a stream in operations management and information systems, which saw its first graduate in 2011. The PhD program was established in 2007.

‘Strategic importance’

“The graduation of these students is an important indicator of the great strides we have made in growing our research-based graduate programs in recent years,” said Dr. Travor Brown, associate dean (research) and director of the M.Sc. and PhD programs. “Growing our graduate programs is of strategic importance to the business faculty as we continue to grow our research profile and support Memorial’s strategic research framework.”

For Ms. Smith and Dr. Clarke, both originally from Mount Pearl, the opportunity to tailor their studies to their own interests was an important factor in their enjoyment of the programs.

Jennifer Smith is now working as a research assistant on Fogo Island.
Jennifer Smith is now working as a research assistant on Fogo Island.

“I knew I wanted a graduate program that would allow me to dive deep into an area I really cared about,” said Ms. Smith. “When Dr. Tom Cooper first told me about the M.Sc. program, he explained that I would have the freedom to tailor my coursework and thesis research to better understand the challenges and opportunities that exist at the nexus of business development and social change in the Newfoundland and Labrador context. He was right, and that’s exactly what I did.”

A head shot of Dr. Heather Clarke
Dr. Heather Clarke
Photo: David Howells

Dr. Clarke’s dissertation, Gender and Organizational Citizenship Behaviour (OCB): The Performance and Evaluation of Gender-Typed OCBs, looked at how gender stereotypes determine the behaviours that are expected of men and women at work and ultimately affect evaluations of job performance.

“The underlying theme that connects all of my research is gender and gender stereotypes,” said Dr. Clarke. “For me, that made it more interesting to be able to branch out and do a few different things. It’s so much more rewarding and interesting when the stuff you’re working on is your own idea.”

Ms. Smith holds degrees in commerce and arts from Memorial and has a diverse employment background that ranges from acting and real estate to business development and the non-profit sector. But it was as a co-founder of Common Ground, the province’s first co-working space and startup house, that her interest in social enterprise was piqued.

“Common Ground was my first experience in the social enterprise realm and as its executive director, I witnessed its impact and potential first-hand,” she said.

At the business faculty, she began working closely with Dr. Natalie Slawinski, who has been gathering data regarding the Shorefast Foundation on Fogo Island and recently won a major grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to further develop her research involving the organization and look at addressing the challenges of rural sustainability through social enterprise.

“I love that I’m currently in a research role that involves both observation and engagement with the community and local organizations.” – Jennifer Smith

Ms. Smith is now the project’s research assistant.

“I’m a proud Newfoundlander and the future of this province is important to me. As a qualitative researcher, it’s my job to invest the time, energy and presence into understanding all the key factors at play in this beautiful rural place. Many days that looks like sitting in someone’s kitchen, office or workshop exploring their views and experiences,” she said.

“I really enjoy being at the crossroads of different fields: business and social, for-profit and not-for-profit, researcher and practitioner. I love that I’m currently in a research role that involves both observation and engagement with the community and local organizations. It’s a bold project that challenges some of the traditional roles of a researcher. I find that exciting.”

‘A significant accomplishment’

Dr. Clarke has an arts degree from Memorial and she completed joint law and master of business administration degrees from the University of New Brunswick in 2004.

“Usually students enter PhD programs with a research-based master’s degree,” said Dr. Clarke. “I did not have that. I had professional degrees and a background practising law. Yet I was able, during my four years in the PhD program, to do interesting research, publish in quality academic journals and present at highly regarded conferences. I also did a significant amount of teaching in the faculty. Because of this I was competitive on the job market.”

Dr. Clarke had multiple job offers before completing the program and now works as an assistant professor of human resource management at the Austin E. Cofrin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Faculty involvement key to success

Both fall graduates say the opportunity to work directly with renowned researchers and to learn from faculty members was a key factor in their success and enjoyment of the program.

“I cannot say enough about the quality of the mentorship I received from Dr. Slawinski as well as several other staff and faculty,” said Ms. Smith. “Their investment in my M.Sc. experience and enthusiasm to invite me into their work was quite unexpected and appreciated more than I can express.”

“I liked that I was set free to do my work, but then when I hit a road block, they were there for me.” – Dr. Heather Clarke

Dr. Clarke singled out her PhD supervisor, Dr. Lorne Sulsky, and faculty members Dr. Kara Arnold and Dr. Dianne Ford as having a positive impact on her experience.

“I liked that I was set free to do my work, but then when I hit a road block, they were there for me to go to and ask my questions,” she said.

She also continues to work with Drs. Arnold and Ford. She and Dr. Arnold are in the midst of a large SSHRC-funded project looking at sexual orientation and gender-typed work — a project that grew out of a paper Dr. Clarke wrote in Dr. Arnold’s class.

“We’ve gone from professor-student to colleagues now so we’re going to continue to work together,” she said.

Ms. Smith and Dr. Clarke will collect their degrees at fall convocation in St. John’s on Oct. 20.

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