Student Perspective: Mason’s Master’s in Management Program Researchship Experience

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Students pursuing a master’s of science in management (MSM) through George Mason University’s School of Business cap their program with a four-month internship or researchship. While many know what an internship is, in a researchship, the student acts more like a consultant than an employee.  

Over the next four months, we'll will follow MSM student Sarah Menna’s work with Arlington Economic Development (AED) to research Arlington County’s non-profit sector, meet with relevant stakeholders, formulate focus groups, and deliver final recommendations with actionable next steps.  

Sarah will be updating this article bi-weekly every Tuesday starting April 12, 2022. Follow this link to get calendar reminders for the latest updates, or bookmark this page. Learn more about Mason's master's in management program here

Week 13 and 14
 

Hi all! Week 14 has come to a close, and the end of the researchship is rapidly approaching. The past several months have flown by, and I am amazed at how much I’ve learned and grown as a professional. This week, I had a great conversation about technology innovation with Brian Scott of ClearTone Consulting, and I’ve begun developing my recommendations and formatting my final report. I cannot wait to present my findings to GMU faculty and the team at AED!

Another day at AED's office
Another day at AED's office

 

As we near the end of the project, I want to take a moment to reflect on all of the ways that my learning from the MSM program have connected to my work with AED. The diverse range of topics we’ve uncovered in the last eleven months have helped me to connect on a deeper level with a wide variety of professionals. Our IT Management class gave me the background knowledge to understand how cloud computing and cybersecurity can benefit nonprofits. Organizational Behavior has helped me think of ways that nonprofits can support their teams. Accounting and finance have helped me to understand how nonprofits can utilize earned revenue streams as a part of their larger funding strategy. Finally, strategy is giving me the foundational knowledge I need to help formulate useful recommendations.

A project like the researchship has proven to be an incredible way to synthesize information. While learning in a classroom provides a necessary base of knowledge, putting theory to practice with a hands-on project has been critical in helping me to internalize everything I’ve learned. Most of my professional growth in this program I attribute to the opportunity to apply my classroom knowledge to a project with tangible outcomes.

That’s all from me for this week! Be sure to check back two weeks from now as I conclude my researchship with Arlington Economic Development!

 


Week 11 and 12
 

Welcome back! We’ve reached Week 12 of the researchship, and the end is in sight. I’m already very excited for my final presentation in a little over a month. My recommendations are starting to take shape, and I’m in the process of rounding out all my findings and developing solutions.

I had three more of my subject matter expert conversations these past two weeks. The more I speak with those who have direct involvement in the sector, the more holistic my knowledge base is becoming. Each of my three interviews gave me new ideas to consider and further leads to explore.

The first of these conversations with Tara Palacios of AED’s BizLaunch office. I was very excited to meet with Tara as this was actually the first of my conversations to be in person! Tara, Susan, and I spoke a lot about resource availability and AED’s past and existing nonprofit programming. One major takeaway I had from our conversation was that nonprofits do not exist in a vacuum; they are part of an entire ecosystem, including small and large businesses and community members, that all work in tandem to better the Arlington community.

My second conversation was with Tom Bartlett of 20 Degrees. Tom’s area of expertise was in nonprofit funding and earned revenue. We talked about how funding has shifting during the global pandemic and how nonprofits can implement innovative funding streams. Tom informed me of a webinar 20 Degrees would be holding soon about how nonprofits can use cryptocurrency as a funding source; I had no idea that this was a funding avenue that nonprofits were starting to explore, and I’m so eager to tune in!

The third conversation I had this week was actually a connection that Steve Blair of Lyceum Insurance (who I spoke to a few weeks ago) helped to make! Steve introduced me to Carin Weiss of Klik Solutions. Carin was kind enough to give me some background of the work that Klik does in the IT and cybersecurity space and tell me about how nonprofits can benefit from IT resources.

I have a few more informational interviews on the calendar and a few more in the works as the project begins to wrap up. I’m ready to soak in as much information as I can from all these subject matter experts as I prepare to make my final recommendations. With all that I am learning, hopefully I am able to make strategy recommendations that can have positive outcomes for local nonprofits!

 


Week 9 and 10

Hello all! I’ve just wrapped up Week 10 of the researchship, and the past two weeks have been packed with exciting meetings and developments. Let’s dive right in!

This stage of the project involves a lot of meetings with subject matter experts around the Arlington community to better understand, from their perspectives, the problems nonprofits are facing and what resources they need to succeed and further innovate. Not only have these meetings been super helpful in directing my project outcomes specifically to the needs of Arlington County, but they also have helped spur lines of thought that I never considered in my prior research!
 

Waiting in AED’s office to meet with Sindy Yeh
Waiting in AED’s office to meet with Sindy Yeh

My first meeting was with Sindy Yeh of AED’s Business Investment Group. Much of Sindy’s expertise surrounded incentives for nonprofit attraction and retention. What stood out to me about our conversation was the need to not only attract nonprofits, but the for-profit businesses that provide support services to nonprofits, like data analytics or production companies. We started brainstorming ways that we could eventually connect nonprofits and associations to companies with relevant support services. I also came out of our conversation with a huge question to explore: How does Arlington County also benefit from supporting nonprofits?

My second meeting was with Steve Blair of Lyceum Insurance. Through his role at Lyceum, Steve interfaces closely with nonprofits in creating plans for risk management and developing employee benefit packages. Much of my conversation with Steve centered around attracting and retaining talent, especially as an increasing number of companies shift to remote or hybrid models. When asked about innovation, Steve highlighted the need to develop innovative benefits packages that can fit the growing diversity of work styles; I’ve never thought of innovation in this way, and I am very glad that Steve addressed this!

With these informational meetings under my belt and several more on the docket for the coming weeks, I am really seeing the pieces of this project coming together. With the input of people like Sindy and Steve, I am thinking of actionable solutions for AED to address nonprofit needs and even considering ways that George Mason students can interface with local nonprofits.

 


Week 7 and 8

Hello all! I just wrapped up Week 8 of the researchship, and with that, we are officially at the halfway point in the project! I have been thrilled with what I’m finding so far, and I am excited to apply all of this knowledge in finding solutions for the needs of Arlington County nonprofits.

To recap the process so far, I’ve been conducting research regarding how nonprofits have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and what resources they need to succeed. After looking at the sector as a whole, I’ve been narrowing my research focus to Arlington County in particular. My supervisor, Susan, and I have been in the process of reaching out to subject matter experts in the area to have conversations about the trends they have been seeing and how they see innovation playing a role in the nonprofit sector.

 

Arlington's Ballston neighborhood
Arlington's Ballston neighborhood

These past two weeks, I’ve been reviewing the annual reports of local nonprofits to see if there are any noticeable shifts in how nonprofits are being funded. I noticed a trend in how more individual giving is being redirected to local aid and health nonprofits, which I became very curious about. I started doing additional research regarding how individuals have been spending their charitable dollars throughout COVID-19. I came across multiple surveys, studies, and articles that noted the exact trends I was seeing in my own research. It was so fascinating to see how the exact findings I’ve come across are echoing the trends that nonprofit experts are seeing nationwide. Knowing what I know now about how people are giving to nonprofits post-pandemic, I can start thinking of some creative ways that nonprofits can capitalize on these shifts.

My conversations with local experts and nonprofit leaders are beginning this coming week; I can’t wait to share how those conversations go here in this blog! With the second half of the researchship and one final module of the MSM program left, it is an incredibly exciting time for growth and professional development. With all of the resources provided by the MSM program and my experience with the researchship, I’m growing into a more confident young professional every day!


Week 5 and 6

 

Hello everyone! We’re entering an exciting new phase of my researchship project as Week 6 wraps up. Now that I finished my research reviewing the current state of the nonprofit sector, I’m starting to narrow the focus of my work onto the needs of nonprofits of Arlington County. Together with my AED supervisor, Susan, I’m beginning to set up conversations with contacts throughout the county to better understand what the county nonprofits need to succeed. I’m so eager to start these conversations and learn more from people who are subject matter experts.
 

The walk into AED’s Ballston office
The walk into AED’s Ballston office

Aside from starting to compile questions to guide my informational interviews, this week I also participated in a webinar hosted by local organization 20 Degrees. 20 Degrees helps nonprofit organizations improve financial literacy and diversify their funding. I listened in as 20 Degrees provided some local nonprofits with knowledge about developing earned revenue streams through innovative use of their knowledge and organizational resources. After doing a large amount of reading about nonprofit earned revenue, it was so helpful to see this concept applied practically to help nonprofits succeed.

 

As I progress through the researchship, I’m so amazed about how much of what I’ve learned in my MSM

20 Degrees Webinar
20 Degrees Webinar

classes has integrated into my project. This module in our Operations and Supply Chain Management course, we learned about optimizing capacity. As I did my initial research about the sector as a whole, capacity building came up repeatedly as a major need for nonprofits. With my knowledge from class, I was able to formulate ideas about how to build capacity by providing support to employees. While our examples in class related more closely to manufacturing, the information transferred easily over to a service-based model. Now that I’m looking to meet and speak with local leaders and organizations, I can have informed conversation with them about how we can improve nonprofit organizational capacity.

That’s all from me for this week! This new phase of my project is about to present me with exciting opportunities that I can’t wait to share with you all in the weeks to come!


Week 3 and 4

Welcome back! This week closed out Week 4 of my researchship with Arlington Economic Development (AED), and I’m very happy about the direction we’re carving out for this project! The researchship process is a quarter of the way through, and I feel as if the foundation we’ve laid so far has created a path for exciting developments.  

The past two weeks have been very heavily focused on reviewing all of the literature I’ve collected through George Mason University Libraries. The available databases provided me with a plethora of information, and I narrowed down all of the resources that I had available into a collection of timely and relevant issue briefs, annual reports, and journal articles. Week 3 was filled with a lot of reading, but I uncovered a lot of really interesting information that is going to be extremely useful moving forward.  

To start Week 4, I again met with Susan at the AED offices. I gave her a more informal overview of all my findings thus far, and after we discussed the trends I’ve been uncovering, we brainstormed some ways that we can begin to focus this information towards the sector environment in Arlington County. What I really appreciate about my conversations with Susan is that I am starting to think of new ideas and approaches that I’ve never considered before. We also came up with a plan to start making connections with sector experts and leaders across Arlington County.  

The rest of the week was spent preparing a formal report of my findings that I can deliver to Susan and the team at AED. Writing a literature review targeted to business rather than academia is a new venture for me, but it’s a skill that I’m very glad to now have under my belt.  

Week 4 also included a career services session with some of the other members of my master’s in management cohort about understanding the common traits of good leaders and how to develop our own personal leadership style. My favorite part of these career sessions is getting to bounce ideas around with my classmates and learn from their own experiences.  

That wraps up Weeks 3 and 4! This project with AED is coming together nicely, and I’m thrilled about the possibilities for further development. My findings so far have been highly informative and thought-provoking, and I’m excited to keep learning about ways to better meet the needs of Arlington County nonprofits! 

I will be updating this space bi-Weekly on Tuesdays. Follow this link to get calendar reminders for my latest updates.


Week 2

Hi all! It is Week 2 of my master’s in management Researchship, and I’ve hit the ground running! My first two weeks were spent developing my research plan and getting a feel for all of the resources I can use to come up with solutions for the problem I have been presented. As a refresher, I will be working with Arlington Economic Development (AED) to research the needs of nonprofit organizations and come up with ways that Arlington County can better meet those needs and provide resources for area nonprofits.  

The view from AED's office space
The view from AED's office space

To kick off my researchship, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to make a visit to AED’s offices in Arlington. Susan, my researchship supervisor, gave me a full tour of the office space before we had a meeting to shape my approach to the project. As an added bonus, the view of Arlington and D.C. from the office was phenomenal, especially with the cherry blossoms nearly at peak bloom! Using some of the information Susan supplied me with at our meeting, I spent the rest of the week creating an Excel database of the nonprofits of Arlington County as well as a catalogue of the research resources I had compiled so far.  

Learning to navigate the GMU library databases 
Learning to navigate the GMU library databases 

I kicked off Week 2 with a virtual meeting with Susan, where I caught her up on everything I had been working on so far and bounced around a few other research questions I had been workshopping. I came away from our meeting with a few more items for my to-do list and a plan to start researching! Beginning a literature review can be a daunting process sometimes, so I was very excited for our researchship session with George Mason University Libraries. The other researchship students and I got a full walk-through of the useful databases that are offered to Mason students. With a better understanding of how to navigate the available resources for literature review, starting my research feels a lot more manageable!  

That’s all from me for now! Now that I have developed a clearer plan for how to tackle this project with help from AED and GMU, I am ready to fully dive into my literature review. I’m eager to learn more about the current needs of the non-profit sector! 

I will be updating this space bi-Weekly on Tuesdays. Follow this link to get calendar reminders for my latest updates.


Introduction

Sarah Menna
Sarah Menna

Hi everyone! My name is Sarah Menna, and I am unbelievably thrilled to get the opportunity to share my MSM Researchship experience with all of you!  

I wanted to start off by introducing myself. I graduated from Penn State University (We Are!) in 2020 with a B.S. in Kinesiology and a minor in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Management. Throughout my undergraduate career, I was following a pre-med track and prepping to become an orthopedic surgeon. However, through internships and volunteer work, I discovered that I had a love for managing teams and projects. I began searching for graduate programs in management, and after several great conversations, I found my fit in the MSM program here at George Mason University.  

What really excited me about this opportunity with AED was the chance to work alongside non-profits to learn how to better meet their needs in a rapidly changing economic environment. At Penn State, I dedicated much of my time to THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. I also had a super unique internship experience with Underdogs United where I helped to connect professional athletes to projects that benefited the implementation of clean drinking water solutions in Kenyan schools. Non-profits have always been near and dear to my heart, and I am excited to continue my work with them. I also have professional interests in project management and consulting, and I am super lucky to get the chance to implement everything I’ve learned so far in the MSM program into a real-life consulting experience.  

That’s all from me for now! Stayed tuned to follow along as I work alongside AED and the non-profits of Arlington County. I can’t wait to dive into this experience and share it with you all along the way!  

I will be updating this space bi-Weekly on Tuesdays. Follow this link to get calendar reminders for my latest updates.