Indiana Tech HR Program Parallels Growth of Profession

By Rena Gorlin and Matt Bair September 12, 2019
Indiana Tech HR Program Parallels Growth of Profession

​Passing the SHRM certification exam "requires more than just memorizing numbers and facts. It's all competency-based," said Jeffrey Walls, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, professor of business at Indiana Institute of Technology, a private university founded in 1930 in Fort Wayne. Becoming SHRM-certified, he said, shows students that they have "the ability to apply what they have learned to be successful in today's fast-paced and demanding business environment."

Walls was recruited by the college president to establish an HR education program at Indiana Tech in 1989. That same year, the American Society for Personnel Administration restructured and rebranded itself as the Society for Human Resource Management. Part of that transformation was revitalizing the organization's approach to HR education. As far as Walls was concerned, the timing was perfect. As leader of Indiana Tech's newly established HR degree program, he recognized SHRM as a primary resource for making his efforts more effective. His students—and their future employers—have benefited ever since.

Fruitful Symbiosis with SHRM

As the profession itself has transformed, the cooperative relationship between Indiana Tech and SHRM has enhanced each. The school's HR program aligns with SHRM's curriculum guidelines, has an active SHRM student chapter, and sends dozens of representatives to the SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition each year.

Encouraging students to attend the massive yearly gathering is part of Walls's efforts to expand their academic horizons into the professional world, exposing them to real-life HR issues and opportunities well before graduation. Walls said that his initial visit to a SHRM annual conference was eye-opening: "I experienced how impactful [it] could be ... from an educational and a networking perspective."

He got permission to take a group of students to the 1993 SHRM Annual Conference from the reluctant university president, who doubted anyone would be interested in going. "What [he] was worried about, I was confident about," Walls said. "I knew students would come back and say, 'That was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life,' " he said, "and by word of mouth, we would be able to generate interest in our HR program."

Indiana Tech HR Students at SHRM Annual

Walls has taken a delegation of about 20 students to each SHRM annual conference since his inaugural trip. Attendees include HR majors, nearly all of whom return to school seeking to become SHRM-certified, as well as business majors, many of whom subsequently change their majors to HR. (At Indiana Tech, a foundational HR course is a required part of the business major.)

Emily Martin, an HR major who will graduate in May 2020, said her attendance at #SHRM19 connected her with thousands of companies, organizational leaders, role models and other students. "The experience opened my eyes to dive deeper into the HR field, ranging from employee engagement, to HR daily responsibilities, to metrics that matter, to human analytics, and to new organizational implementations," she said. Her time there was "motivational and inspirational."

Jerod Davis, a double major in criminal justice and HR, is also planning to graduate in 2020. He said the SHRM conference "teach[es] you things that you can't learn in the classroom. It also ...  kind of forces you to make connections [and] talk to other people," who may even "go over [your] resumes to make you look your best for future employers."

Sean Williamson, a management major who will graduate in December 2019, plans to pursue an M.B.A.-HR degree. He said the SHRM annual conference experience was "where you discover more about yourself and the field of HR that you never even knew to be possible. Even if you are not in HR, it is … worth the trip to network and learn from experienced professionals in every sector of the business field."

M.B.A.-HR candidate Tonii Martin-Rhodes, who will graduate in May 2020, said, "To be around my peers [at the SHRM conference] solidified why I'm in HR for life."

HR Certification Means Power and Growth

Not long after the launch of the Indiana Tech HR program, Walls recognized the need to earn his own professional credential in the field. "I saw the power of certification with all the top HR people in the world. [T]o seem legitimate with our students, I needed to be certified," he said, which he achieved in 1994. Thus began Walls's new focus for his program and its students, with emphasis on academic and professional growth. "I began aligning our curriculum with the exam study process and made sure our books were the ones SHRM was using."

Indiana Tech's HR program curriculum has been thoroughly reviewed and endorsed by SHRM through 2021, meaning that its students can take the SHRM-CP exam prior to graduation. (Students in non-SHRM-endorsed programs must qualify in other ways to take the exam.)

SHRM certification puts students "on a different plateau professionally," Walls said. "As soon as a hiring manager sees this credential on a resume, they get it."

Positive Recognition, Promising Prospects

Over the years, SHRM has recognized Indiana Tech's HR students as some of the best and most engaged in the country with various national honors, including several for outstanding individual undergraduates. The SHRM student chapter has earned the Superior Merit Award from SHRM every year since 1998 for excellence in the professional development of its members and the way it promotes the HR profession.

Walls still enjoys working with new students each year to maintain and keep improving the HR program he began years ago. Every award hanging in his office "is there because of a student," he said.

Rena Gorlin, J.D., is an independent writer and editor in Washington, D.C. Matt Bair is director of marketing and communication at the Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne.

For more information on SHRM Certification, and to register for the exam, please visit our website.

Already SHRM-certified? Be sure to maintain your credential by recertifying. Learn more about recertification activities here.


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