Institute reaches out to professional community

April 11, 2000

Nick Marinello

On the back of a brochure published by University College's new Professional Development Institute is the following message: "Tulane's purpose is to create, communicate and conserve knowledge in order to enrich the capacity of individuals, organizations and communities to think, to learn and to act and lead with integrity and wisdom."

If the verbiage sounds familiar, it's because the words articulate Tulane's official mission statement. The words also communicate much of what is at the heart of the Professional Development Institute, a customized training program that could make a significant, positive impact on individuals and organizations in the community.

"I see this as another component to the outreach we do," says Rick Marksbury, dean of University College, who officially kicked off the institute with an April 4 reception at the home of Tulane President Scott Cowen and his wife, Marjorie. "What we do at University College is both educate and train; that's what makes it a unique experience at the undergraduate level," he says.

According to Marksbury, University College has had a long history of training and educating professionals, either through the more traditional curriculum that is offered at convenient times for working adults or through six- to eight-week minicourses focused on specific professional needs.

"What we started talking about in the past few years is taking this to the next level," says Marksbury, who adds that the institute has been in operation since last spring. "We are interested in being more responsive to the exact needs that businesses, government agencies or other institutions may have. This is what is new about PDI."

"With this institute, we are designing courses to provide instruction in the exact practical training or skill-sets a particular group of employees needs," say Paul Forbes, director of PDI. Forbes, who was hired to lead the project last August, sees the institute as "an ideal partner" for companies and agencies that are looking to develop their employees while also improving operations.

Among organizations currently contracting PDI's services are AT&T and Progressive Insurance, says Marksbury. Forbes says that part of his job is to help organizations identify their own needs and then provide the customized training.

"The types of training that we have been doing include those dealing with management, negotiating, customer service, sexual harassment issues, writing and communications skills, as well as technology skills," says Forbes.

Once a company can articulate the specific kinds of training it needs, Forbes finds qualified instructors to conduct the training. "The majority of instructors in PDI will be members of Tulane's faculty," says Forbes, who works with instructors to develop an effective training strategy.

"My hope and choice is that we use Tulane's expertise," says Marksbury. "We reserve the option, however, to go outside the university to hire qualified instructors if we don't have a particular expertise within our ranks."

As part of the user-friendly nature of PDI, instructors are available to conduct training sessions either at the employer's site or at University College's Elmwood or New Orleans Centre facilities. Training typically lasts one to two days. Being flexible is a hallmark of PDI, says Marksbury.

"University College needs to be more than simply a place that adheres to a rigid academic calendar where people come to take courses to get credits," he says. "We need to be able to respond with short-term solutions for the real world. The formula can't always be 15 weeks of 'x' amount of hours."

Forbes who holds a master's degree in English from Tulane and who was involved in launching the Freeman Business School's Executive MBA program, says a major selling point for his institute is its affiliation with Tulane.

"We bring with us Tulane's reputation for quality," he says. "We bring to them instructors with both real-world and theoretical knowledge. PDI's training translates from the classroom one day to on-the-job results the next."

He also sees the training done through PDI as acting synergistically with the larger mission of University College. "PDI is a portal or gateway to Tulane for many people," he says. "Through the work I do here I will be able to 'cross-sell,'if you willour academic services." If so, Forbes will achieve his two goals: increasing community awareness of University College and increasing training resources to the community. "I like win-win situations," he says.

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