The Project tackles Michigan veteran benefits


A college competition is bringing awareness to military veteran benefits while exposing students to project management practices.

Davenport University will host the third annual collegiate project management competition, The Project, which involves students preparing a project for the governor focused on connecting Michigan military veterans to their federal benefits. The competition will take place Monday, April 14, on Davenport’s campus at 6190 Kraft Ave. SE, Lettinga 227.

Representing nine academic institutions across the state, 11 teams will deliver a final presentation to a panel of judges with their solution to the business case presented to them at the beginning of the competition.

Academic institutions participating this year are Davenport, Grand Valley State University, University of Phoenix, Michigan Tech, Ferris State University, ITT Technical Institute, Cornerstone University, Hillsdale College and Aquinas College.

At the final event, interested companies and representatives can interview the students in a reverse career fair format before the four finalists are announced. A reverse career fair allows all the participating students, no matter how successful their team may be in the competition, to set up a table for interested parties to approach them.

Brian Gleason, campus director at University of Phoenix, said companies have the opportunity to interview students with project management skills in a more hands-on approach.

“Employers get exclusive access to higher caliber students,” said Gleason. “It is way more involved than your typical experience.”

The strong collaboration to place students from the educational institutions in high-need jobs in the area may make a difference in retaining them, according to Gleason. Local companies such as Dematic, Spectrum Health, Stryker, DPT Solutions and Steelcase Inc. will be present at the competition. 

“This is more of an engaged effort from the employers, from WMPMI, from the institutions and from the students,” said Gleason. 

Jeff Kissinger, who is project management certified and leads The Project, said in the past the event has been helpful in exposing students to project management practices, and the reverse career fair is a positive thing. According to Ted Kallman, vice president of programs at West Michigan Project Management Institute, 70 percent of participating students in 2012 ended up with an internship or employment resulting from The Project.

The rather unique competition was created by WMPMI in 2012 and quickly gained national and international exposure. The Project immerses students in real-life business experiences while following the same parameters and guidelines to which certified professional project managers adhere. Each team follows a schedule of deadlines at various stages, according to the WMPMI website.

Some of the events, or deliverables, include: developing a detailed budget supporting the plan’s development; demonstrate how the deliverables resulting from the plan will be operational by June 2015; and demonstrate how the project’s success will be measured.

Andrew Gill, head of software application engineering at Dematic, said in a radio interview with host Denny Gillem on “Frontlines of Freedom” that students range from undergraduates and graduates, who are then mentored by local project managers, certified by the chapter, and then produce the project deliverables.

“It is a great networking opportunity,” said Gill in the interview. “We think we have sown the seed here three years ago, and I know a lot of people are interested in the concept. The concept of local project management chapters linking with local students, involving local businesses — it’s a great opportunity.”

A recent PMI study reported a need for 340,000 project management positions for the next 10 years, according to its website. A project management professional credential is one of the most recognized certifications, and PMI is an international organization setting the standards for the profession.

Dick Friedrich, retired process leader from General Electric and adjunct professor at Davenport, said project management is a way that any business or nonprofit organization can bring new ideas and entrepreneurial activities to its operations.

“Project management is often misunderstood. Even people in regular business careers don’t see how it is an advantage,” said Friedrich. “You always need new ideas in any organization. These new ideas need to be implemented efficiently without detracting from the regular work.”

Friedrich is the mentor for the Hillsdale College team and has been involved in the competition since 2012. He said one reason for becoming a mentor again was that he enjoys working with young people and passing along hard-learned lessons.

“That’s something that students appreciated because they have been exposed to some concepts and principles in college life but haven’t gotten the chance to apply them,” he said.

The other reason he cited was the theme for this year’s competition: connecting Michigan military veterans to their federal benefits. As a Vietnam veteran, Friedrich said, although he comes from a different era, he feels empathy for the veterans recently returning from war.

The scenario to improve awareness and accessibility of federal benefits for Michigan veterans is sponsored by Gov. Rick Snyder. According to a press release from the governor in late 2013, Michigan has more than 650,000 military veterans and is ranked 11thfor largest population of veterans in the country. However, on a per-capita basis, Michigan veterans rank last as recipients of federal benefits.

Keeping in line with the theme, there are seven or eight veterans participating who are on a team as mentors or champions. “Frontlines of Freedom” host Gillem is a retired lieutenant colonel from the United States Army and is on the panel of judges, and Gill is a British Navy veteran. The number of veterans involved in this year’s competition was coincidental, according to Kissinger.

“I think it will shape it wonderfully,” said Kissinger. “It will definitely give it a more personal standpoint.”

Friedrich said having the governor and the staff review or implement aspects of the top projects and exposing the issue are a couple of the goals he has for this year’s project.

“Generally, vets don’t want special treatment and to get involved in long-term ‘entitlement’ programs,” said Friedrich. “Each vet has unique needs so it would be great if they could pick from a selection, buffet-style, of benefits that best fit the individual’s need. This is not easily implemented from a government’s perspective.”

At the end of the competition, the winning project will be presented to Snyder and will receive a cash prize. The Project is sponsored by Dematic, Davenport University, Spectrum Health, Stryker, Cascade Engineering, DPT Solutions, Steelcase Inc., BVW Photography and Grand Rapids Business Journal.

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