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 DHS News November 2013     


7th Annual Case Competition Tackles HR Issues

A team of graduate students from the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) took first place and the $3,000 prize in the Department of Human Service (DHS) 7th annual case competition, held Nov. 9 in the Human Services Building, Downtown.

Aston Armstrong, of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs; Andrea Thurau of Pitt’s School of Social Work; and Maureen Washburn of CMU’s H. John Heinz III College won the competition,  operating as Team Birmingham. Three other teams took 2nd, 3rd and 4th place, winning $1,500, $500 and gift cards, respectively.

DHS challenged teams to develop a three-year recruitment and retention plan to meet the department’s desire to build a modern human services workforce while meeting a range of employment challenges.

Teams devised strategies to improve one key workforce characteristic -- talent, diversity or commitment – for one targeted workforce segment – front line, support or leadership. Teams had to think creatively; develop a timeline; ensure their plan extended to providers and contracted workers; offer a process of evaluation; and finally, make a 20-minute presentation using PowerPoint and verbal arguments before a panel of judges to convince them of the viability of their ideas.

Case Competition
The judges and the winning team.

The teams had from Wednesday evening, Nov. 6, when they received the challenge issue, to 7 a.m. Saturday to prepare their case.

Sixteen people from DHS staff and leadership, provider agencies, foundation partners and subject matter experts served as judges. Those included Pat Valentine, DHS Executive Deputy Director for Integrated Program Services;  Erin Dalton, Deputy Director, Office of Data Analysis, Research and Evaluation; Jacki Hoover, Assistant Deputy Director, Office of Children, Youth and Families; and Jamie Regan, DHS Director of Human Resources. John Sawyer, DHS Manager of Government Affairs and Public Policy, served as emcee.

Team Birmingham’s proposal created a Leadership Ladder Program, intending to win and retain talent by capitalizing on desires expressed by 100 Pitt and CMU students, ages 22 to 30, in a team-conducted survey that indicated top attractions in a career are to make an impact, have intellectual challenges and opportunities for advancement.

The team examined best practices in recruitment and retention in three out-of-state counties as well. Its plan tapped academic partnerships for training, field trips, case studies and research and looked to established employees for mentoring and training sessions. It also suggested DHS as a whole plan more networking events, a speakers’ series and additional training opportunities.

Team Birmingham’s plan allowed employees to earn points with trainings, conducting research or spearheading projects; or spending and tracking time with a mentor. Incentives included greater flexibility in work hours; recognition and awards; and opportunities for promotion into leadership. Semi-annual reviews, charting of progress on the Leadership Ladder and setting measurable targets for six-month increments were also plan components.

Judges praised the plan for its comprehensiveness and ability to be adjusted to different settings. They also praised team members for their energy and ability to think on their feet during the question period following their presentation.

Team members said they welcomed the competition’s exercise of their intellectual and creative skills while offering the chance to meet and network with DHS staff members and support partners. Participating in the Case Competition took me outside of the CMU bubble and gave me the chance to collaborate with smart folks from across disciplines,” said Maureen Washburn, who said she plans to work in human services.  I am most passionate about issues related to children and youth, particularly housing, mental health, and foster care prevention.”

“I had such a great time sharing my ideas with my group members and we all got so excited when one of us had a great idea to contribute to the project,” said Andrea Thurau, who is earning a master’s in social work and certificate in gerontology. “Our group made sure to laugh with each other, dance when we were tired, and have fun with this opportunity to share our ideas with the great nonprofit leaders in Pittsburgh.”  Andrea plans to “work my way up the ladder to administration and oversee a community program for elders. “

John said reports are being prepared following the competition and discussions are under way as to how to incorporate suggestions into DHS operations and policy.

The competition is supported by the DHS Human Services Integration Fund.  A committee of seven from the Office of Data, Analysis, Research and Evaluation and the Executive Office planned for it over a period of three months. Their work included recruiting students and preparing the case and background in consultation with DHS stakeholders.

Other finalists were:

Second  place, Team Rankin, $1,500: Susanna Ronalds-Hannon, Carnegie Mellon University, Heinz College; Stephen Sumpter,  Duquesne University, School of Business; Maria Wallace, Carnegie Mellon University, Heinz College; Qian Zhu, University of Pittsburgh, Social Work.

Third Place, Team Smithfield, $500: David Clarke, Duquesne University, Social and Public Policy; Chad Dorn, University of Pittsburgh, Education; Tiffany Smith, University of Pittsburgh, Social Work; Yiqun Sun , University of Pittsburgh, Social Work. 

Fourth Place, Team Homestead,  gift cards for each team member:  Aviva Diamond, Carnegie Mellon University, Heinz College; Deborah Garofalo, Duquesne University, Social and Public Policy; David Streeter , University of Pittsburgh, GSPIA; Stephen Zumbrun, University of Pittsburgh, School of Law.



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