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Study aims at making national parks a better place to work

USC Rossier students strive to improve employee satisfaction and engagement

4/25/11Los Angeles, CAUSC Rossier School of EducationPhoto Credit:  Steve Cohn© 2011 Steve Cohn/ Steve Cohn Photography(310) 277-2054www.stevecohnphotography.comby Andrea Bennett

The research of seven USC Rossier School of Education students in the Hawaii EdD program is poised to improve employee satisfaction and engagement within the National Park Service (NPS).

Each of the doctoral candidates in the thematic dissertation group focused on a different national park to identify the knowledge, motivation and organizational causes for low-employee satisfaction.

The students, who have dubbed themselves “The Rangers,” shared their collective findings and proposed solutions with NPS leadership during a two-day retreat at the Grand Canyon earlier this month.

Park officials, who aim to place NPS among the top 10 best places to work in the federal government by 2016, embraced the findings and said they were eager to implement the students’ recommendations.

“It was a profound experience to engage real employees and real leaders in their quest to improve employee satisfaction,” said EdD student Dave Koltermann.

“We were astonished by the relevancy of our work and that our efforts have the potential to help one of America’s most revered institutions.”

Coreen Lee, one of the five students to present at the Grand Canyon, agreed that it was exciting to know her research as a student would have an immediate impact on the storied institution.

“We were working in real time with an organization that was interested in our findings and proposed solutions, which gave the experience vibrancy that I’m not sure many other dissertation studies have,” Lee said.

Melora Sundt and friends

Melora Sundt, Coreen Lee, Kathy Hanson, Dave Koltermann and Bryan Pang, from left, visit the Grand Canyon.

The group, which was led by USC Rossier Professors Melora Sundt and Ken Yates, and NPS Chief Learning Officer Kathy Hanson EdD ’02, also defended their dissertations before faculty from the University of Vermont, which is currently studying high-performing parks in the system, and the director of workforce development for NPS.

The students, who applied the Gap Analysis Model to their assigned parks, were able to offer NPS leaders a fresh problem-solving approach to employee satisfaction, and each will present to his or her respective park in the coming weeks.

Common findings among the parks studied dealt with improved communications, access to professional development, recognition for performance and participation in decision-making.

EdD candidate Bryan Pang, who works in the Hawaii Department of Education, said he sees many parallels between improving employee satisfaction and boosting student academic achievement.

“One key phrase that will stay with me forever and can be applied to our schools is ‘reciprocal accountability,” Pang said. “It means that leaders hold themselves accountable first for equipping employees to succeed.

“Likewise, in education, learning targets need to be made clear and communicated to students throughout the learning process.”

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